Princes and Paupers of Transport Security

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Published in IPSA Features
With a global economy, as well as vacations being taken further and further afield, both air and sea transport are essential elements in moving both goods and people. Security of whichever method of transport is reliant on appropriate personnel, equipment and training at the terminal along with protection in transit.
 
Simon Smith, maritime security lead at the International Professional Security Association (IPSA), explains further…
 
Why is this article a tale of Princes and Paupers?  Are we just seeking to be contentious? Well, yes, but with valid cause.
 
Of all transport security, those involved with air travel and movement, cargo through airlines to airport management are “Princes of the City” in Shakespearian terms.
 
There are historic reasons for this, but also, as seen recently with the aeroplane which was destroyed over the Sinai desert following its departure from Sharm el-Sheikh, the catastrophic nature of failure gives an impact to it which it is hard, if not impossible, to minimise.  Secondly, aircraft and air movements remain a target of high importance to the evilly disposed.  This has led to the primary position of air security.  An obscure writer of pulp fiction in the 1930s developed a plot where an aircraft was hijacked. He put into the mouth of one of his characters, an American, the suggestion that, critical though people may be, in the era of the gangsters of the USA, nobody had hijacked an aircraft. Didn't that come back to haunt him?
 
By the 1970s, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), as a UN Agency and working through the Montreal Convention, was imposing the will of the world's air travellers.  With backers like the USA, who recognised that their aircraft were the primary targets, standards were imposed which have been seriously revisited and strengthened and, frankly, will continue to be so.  Multi millions of (US) dollars and local currencies have poured into technology.  The human side of security has not been neglected, either.  In the UK, the sharpest tools in the Government security box gravitate, naturally, to air security.  When licensing of contract security officers by the Security Industry Authority (SIA) was introduced, it was immediately suggested that this, plus the SIA’s Approved Contractor Scheme, would render obsolete the Civil Aviation Authority list of contractors able to operate in air security.  No chance.  Air security remains a speciality, and avoiding the word “elite” in this sentence is hard.  Of course, when an IED the size of a bag of sugar, can break up an aeroplane in mid air, the point can be seen.  When an aircraft can be hijacked and flown into a building, the point cannot be argued.  Other parts of the transport security sector cannot argue.  We can, however, be envious.
 
Maritime security, generally at ports, in contrast has had no such imperative.  
 
Despite the desire, expressed in the UK legislation in the 1980s, that port security should mirror that of airports, it really doesn't.  Even the amusing situation with the regulators and inspectors indicates a lack of single mindedness, despite the best efforts of individuals in those directorates. It is also a fact that, whether in the migrant crisis, with containers far inland disgorging otherwise undetected asylum seekers, or the threat of terrorism, or simple theft or smuggling, any discussion with Government or MPs starts with the mantra that there must be no impeding of the free and expeditious movement of goods.  Simple mathematics, number of containers unloaded, number of Border Force staff and security staff, and time that consignors and consignees want the goods out of the gate, allows a rough calculation of percentage checks that can be done.  A recent figure given to an inquiring MP suggested about 5 per cent of goods are examined. With the above formula, that figure is optimistic, if not plainly wrong. In any event, one container out of twenty is hardly brilliant.  Hence, other transport security staff (recently at a motorway service Station, prior to that at a lorry park!) find themselves rounding up migrants.  This also highlights that, with the integration of transport comes the interlinking of transport security.
 
Of similar interest is the recent desire of the EU to strengthen port security. It is ironic that the UK, with a history of enclosed docks, the world's first Dock and Marine Police establishments, a whole proud history of general maritime security guaranteed by world class Naval Forces, is the same country that is now vehemently opposing the tightening of Port Security.  Irony hardly does it justice.
 
Of course, say “maritime security” and the average person in the street talks of piracy.  This has been the ‘in thing’ recently.  Suddenly rediscovered by the press and hence the general public, but hardly news to transport security professionals.  In the 1980s, the ICC International Maritime Bureau (a specialised division of the International Chamber Of Commerce), an observer in the UN Commission of Trade and Development UNCTAD) set up an office in Kuala Lumpur to report piracy from Singapore to the South China Sea. The very excellent Director of IMB, Eric Ellen, a former Chief of the Port of London Police co-authored the book “Violence at Sea” which lists many attacks on ships and boats, including in and adjacent to UK waters.  At the same time the West Indies Customs Co-ordination Scheme (now CCLEC) recorded acts of piracy, mainly against larger leisure vessels.  These were frequently violent and led to loss of life.  Many of these acts were perpetrated by drug traffickers who needed boats to smuggle into the USA.  The legitimate crews, in these cases, being invariably murdered.  The Gulf of Guinea, Nigeria included, has had similar problems since the late 1980s.
 
So, suddenly, Somalis, having a failed State, no fish to catch (courtesy of large foreign trawlers “hoovering” the seabed) and no great resources save for their boats and an endless supply of firearms and rocket propelled grenades  (perhaps an unfortunate combination?) grab the headlines by reinventing piracy.  Of course, much of the “TV chatter” revolved round the UK's 20th century induced horror of “Armeo Guards” being deployed.  (The author's ancestors, ship owners and masters, would have shrugged their shoulders in disbelief of course.  Into the 19th century, they carried cannon, as late as Grandfather in the 1930s, going nowhere without his 45 Colt Bulldog revolver.  Legal provisions still exist for such arms.  It's just people who changed).
 
In any event, this led to “maritime security” equating to the ex-Special Forces personnel necessarily deployed to deal with the phenomenon and, fair play, they did.
 
It is to be wished (with no chance of fulfilment) that the vast quantity of theft, smuggling and criminal damage that is the normal fare of maritime transport, could be so easily addressed.  Overall, despite the available knowledge and technology, maritime security remains the “Paupers” of the transport security industry.
 
If you wish to find out more about maritime security and training, pleasevisit ipsa.org.uk
 

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