Armed guarding shouldn’t be cheap. It should be expensive

James Wilkes from Gray Page writes today about the dangerously low price levels private maritime security companies are offering.

Rolls-Royce cars are world renowned. For decades, they have been owned by the very rich and famous.

The Phantom is Rolls-Royce’s signature car. A new one will cost you north of £363,600 ($476,000). At that price, you expect the best. The definition of excellence. The benchmark by which all luxury cars are measured. It’s where the saying, “The Rolls-Royce of… something” comes from. The Rolls-Royce of something is to be the very best of its kind. A synonym for the zenith of quality and standards. Which is why they are expensive.The price-tag is a promise of that.

To get the price to the level where it’s at now, compromises have been made, short-cuts taken, standards lowered

If I was to offer you a brand new, never-been-driven, Rolls-Royce Phantom for £50,000 would you buy it?

I doubt it. The offer doesn’t make sense. The price is too low. An indicator that there is something wrong. An implausible promise. Common sense would tell you to reject it because it’s probably a fake, broken or stolen.

Even if it was legit, wouldn’t you feel a bit of a fraud owning and driving it? A Rolls-Royce isn’t supposed to be cheap, it’s supposed to be expensive.

Armed guarding shouldn’t be cheap, either.

Putting men with guns on merchants ships to protect from the threat of attack by armed assailants should be an expensive exercise.

If I was to offer you a brand new, never-been-driven, Rolls-Royce Phantom for £50,000 would you buy it?

The logical consequence of hiring armed guards is, fundamentally, to countenance the potential use of lethal force to defend a vessel in extreme and proscribed circumstances.

It is a serious business, with potentially serious consequences. Consequently, it should put ship operators and managers to a serious decision.

But armed guarding is cheap because that’s the world of shipping; a world of low-cost cheapness. A world in which the price tag of armed guarding has been driven so low that it’s barely a decision anymore.

If you can arm- guard a ship for a transit through the Gulf of Aden / Indian Ocean range for a few thousand dollars, who cares what the threat really is?

And if you don’t care enough to look hard at the threat and assess it properly, you’re not likely to care too much about the financial substance, capabilities and operational standards of the private maritime security company (PMSC) you employ and the guards they provide.

Which is how you end up with incidents like the Jaeger, and others that have gone unreported in the public domain.

What happened on board the Jaeger was a product of many factors most of which did not start on the ship.

At the micro-level, an armed-guard, ostensibly driven out of his mind by desperation, lost the plot and hijacked a ship for three days.

There is no doubt that it was a grievous criminal act. It’s fortunate no one was injured or killed.

In mitigation perhaps, five months-plus stuck at sea, without pay and no prospect of relief can evidently drive a person beyond the edge. You can point to the crisis at sea that COVID-19 has precipitated. And it demands much further attention. But the roots of the problem are older, and run more deeply and widely than anyone wants to admit in the public square.

At the macro-level, armed guarding is too cheap. To get the price to the level where it’s at now, compromises have been made, short-cuts taken, standards lowered, blind-eyes turned, ignorance and indifference ingrained on both sides of the supply and demand equation.

So a service that should be purchased against and provided to ‘Rolls-Royce standards’, isn’t because you can’t have the best for next to nothing. If you’re offered it, it’s probably because somewhere along the line it’s broken, fake or stolen. If you accept it, you surely have to take some measure of responsibility for the problems that flow from it.

Armed guarding should be defined by excellence, by the highest of standards, synonymous with quality at its best. The price tag should be a promise of that, which is why armed guarding should be expensive.

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