Navigating the high-risk waters of the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, shipping companies are increasingly turning to specialist maritime security companies like Origin Security Group to protect their vessels, cargo and crew while in transit in high-risk areas. The independent security firm has a strong track record in tackling global maritime piracy threats and boasts over 35 years of combined experience in providing security solutions to clients. To date, Origin Security Group is the only fully Maltese-owned maritime security company, with a second office operating from Ukraine.
Could you give a brief overview of your company?
We offer solutions to shipping companies to manage strategic and operational risk. We have a 24-hour manned operations centre in Malta, where we monitor the progress of our clients’ vessels during their transit in high-risk waters, and provide the appropriate support as circumstances may require. Although threats have decreased when compared to previous years, the threat is still there and is very real. All communication and information go through our secure servers. With ports of embarkation and disembarkation in Djibouti, Egypt, Fujairah, Kenya, Oman, South Africa and Sri Lanka, we offer a wide range of security options, including on-board armed security teams and vessel escorts. We are one of the few companies to have acquired the Panama licence. At the time, around 600 companies applied for the licence, and we were one of only 73 approved to service vessels under the Panama flag. In the last three years, we have conducted well over 300 successful on-board security missions.
What is the competitive edge of your company?
The strong relationships we have built with our clients is integral to our business. Another key focus is to maintain the high quality and standard of our services by gaining all the relevant certifications to give peace of mind to our clients. Our personnel are highly skilled and rigorously vetted. We have also been white listed by a number of insurance underwriters. As a security specialist, we not only analyse the needs of our clients, but also do a comprehensive assessment on potential challenges and find solutions to protect their vessels, crew and cargo. We also ensure that the services we provide are of a high standard as befitting our clients’ needs.
What kind of security personnel do you provide and how do they protect the vessels?
Personnel are not employed unless they have excellent physical fitness, a solid military background, clean criminal record and undergo psychological tests and profiling. They must also have the relevant experience in firearm handling, as well as various other safety certificates. We currently have around 40 operators and know each of them and their families personally. Most are Ukrainians and other Eastern Europeans, as well as some Bulgarian and British ex-military personnel. Vessels are usually supplied with a three-man team, unless circumstances require a larger team. When escorting superyachts from the Suez to for example Dubai or the Maldives, we normally have a team of six as these types of multimillion vessels are definite high-value targets. Also we cannot take the same pre-emptive measures as we do on big vessels, such as putting razor wire on the edges, so having more man power is crucial. Our teams are armed with semi-automatic weapons. We don’t carry fully automatic weapons for two simple reasons. Firstly, many countries on our routes, such as Oman, do not allow fully automatic weapons in their territory. Thus we constantly monitor changes in various national legislations to ensure we are always operating legally. Secondly, while at sea and if attacked, it is crucial to conserve ammunition as what you have, is all you have. However, an armed response is the very last resort, as our protocol is to always pre-empt any potential threats or use various evasive tactics. Every employee of our company, from management to security operators, must adhere to our Business Integrity Policy and Human Rights Policy. I have been out on transit myself and know the realities and challenges first-hand. I would never ask my operators to do something I can’t do myself.
What challenges does your industry face and what are your views on the piracy you face?
The piracy industry has become more sophisticated and organised. They have look-outs in Suez and various ports along the Red Sea to notify counterparts further down of potential targets coming their way. Although the rise in piracy is a real concern for the shipping industry, the more disturbing aspect of this problem is that often these people storming vessels are coming from countries with devastating conditions of war and poverty – and piracy is just one of equally terrifying options for them to make any kind of living. We have seen pirate skiffs and their so-called mother ships incredibly far out in the ocean, for most taking over a shipping vessel is truly a matter of life or death, which makes the threat a very real and serious one. As for business challenges, we have to constantly monitor costs. Sending teams across the world and providing them with the right equipment is a significant expense. The global shipping industry hasn’t quite recovered from the crisis and the pricing structure today is much lower than what it used to be – we’ve seen drops of around 30% in what we bill, compared to just three years ago. Shipping companies are suffering with the cost of transits eating away at their profits, which in turn affects us as well.
How important are strategic partnerships for your business?
Strategic alliances are crucial. We work with very specific routes and clients, however if a client came to us needing protection or security services in other geographical areas, we have systems in place to cater to them with the help of strategic partners and teams in those countries along with intelligence reports that we gather from numerous agencies and organisations. It is vital to have reliable, reputable and highly skilled partners in this business, as nothing can surpass the value of local intelligencefrom people on the ground.
What benefits does Malta offer your business?
Malta is a stable and well-regulated EU jurisdiction and a renowned shipping hub. The fact that we are based in a reputable location, with full offices and operations, also makes us accountable, giving our clients added assurances that they can trust our business.
What challenges do you see your industry facing in the future?
The Mediterranean has long been considered a safe sea for shipping. However, the security threat has escalated in the last few years following the developments in the Middle East and North Africa, and we are doing much research into potential threats. There is no need for scaremongering, but it is important to be aware and be able to pre-empt security issues. The game is changing in terms of piracy in these waters, it’snot so much about hijacking the cargo and vessel for ransom, but rather destroying them along with its crew, to gain media attention and put political pressure on governments. Another serious aspect to consider is if tankers are targeted in the Mediterranean, the potential environmental damage would be devastating. These are issues we need to contend with today. Also the volatile economic climate has its impact on us, as it puts pressure on our clients and the shipping industry. Constant vigilance, training and best practice is the way forward.
Alan Ciangura is a seasoned professional and has been in the private security industry for over 20 years. The majority of his past work has been in close protection in various countries,including the protection of private clients,Hollywood stars, as well as children. He set up Origin Security Group along with his British partner in 2012, for the purpose of providing risk mitigation services to the shipping industry and to owners of super yachts.