Gray Page is doing what?
What makes a company like Gray Page – an advisory and consulting business with a trusted brand and a track record of success – decide to launch a security product? Not just a security product: a marine security product; a security product to be used on ships. Have we gone mad?
Maybe, but we don’t think so.
In the last 14 years, we have dealt more than 4000 cases and projects, operating physically in 76 countries worldwide, solving problems for a global client-base.
That’s what we do. We solve problems. Usually complex ones, where substantial amounts of money are involved and valuable assets are at risk.
And the launch of our new DFENCE vessel perimeter protection system has its roots firmly in the problem-solving tradition we have at Gray Page.
Necessity is the mother invention
One of the things that our Asset Protection division does is to harden ships against criminal threats, such as pirates. That involves employing certain physical measures in combination with tried and tested procedures designed to defend the ship and protect the crew from harm.
Across all the ships that we have worked with, the one area of vulnerability that has been very difficult to defend properly is the side rails.
Ordinarily running the length of the main deck where the ship’s freeboard is commonly at its lowest, the rails are designed to stop people falling over the ship’s side. They are not designed to stop someone climbing up and over the side of the ship.
Ironically, what makes the rails an effective safety measure also makes them desperately vulnerable to ladders and scaling poles which can easily be hooked on.
The guidance that shipowners and operators have followed for a number of years in relation to hardening the security posture of ships is Best Management Practices for Protection against Somalia Based Piracy (BMP). It is now in its fourth iteration (BMP4) and although BMP guidance had been extended in various ways to cover the waters of West Africa and South East Asia there hasn’t been a consolidated update since 2011.
BMP suggests various measures that can be employed to defend ships’ perimeters, but largely focuses on the use of razor wire to that end.
As such, razor wire has become the most commonly used measure around ships’ perimeters. And multiple coils of razor wire, robustly and thoroughly rigged, have good security properties.
However, razor wire has fundamental weaknesses in terms of its use at sea. Not least that it is horrible to handle and demanding to do so safely. Crews do not, as a rule, like working with it.
And because it is so hazardous to handle, it is difficult to rig effectively in a timely fashion.
Which means it does not work well for many types of ship, particularly those with a high tempo of STS operations, and short sea passages in high risk areas with frequent port calls, where razor wire has to be rigged and derigged frequently.
Faced with this problem on a fleet of product tankers operating off West Africa and under our care security-wise, we have, over many years, worked to find other solutions to hardening them at their sides and along their rails.
And while it was relatively straight-forward to identify solutions with good security properties, they always failed the practicality test to one extent or another.
Was it easy and safe to handle? Could it be rigged and de-rigged quickly? There are always times when the barrier needs to come down; be it for cargo operations, or in anticipation of seriously heavy weather, when a barrier left in place will be damaged or will do damage to the ship. Because it needs to come down, can it be stored away conveniently? Are we dealing with materials that will rot or rust in the marine environment? What, therefore, are the ongoing costs of maintenance?
In the absence of an existing product that answered all of these tests positively, without compromising on security properties, we decided to design and develop our own.
Bringing the DFENCE vessel perimeter protection system to market
While we have spent two years designing and testing the DFENCE system, it is actually the product of decades of experience and knowledge of sailing and operating ships, as well as countering piracy and maritime security.
It’s not the first plastic barrier system on the market. But we believe it is the only one that answers the test of practicality; a problem which we were determined to solve.
Having invested time and money developing the DFENCE barrier, we hope, of course, that shipowners and operators will buy it. But just as fundamentally we believe that the DFENCE system is a step forward in better protecting seafarers from the threat of piracy and that has to be a good thing.
In recent years there has been a shift away from hijacking ships to steal their cargoes to the kidnapping their crews. The process of securing their release can be deeply traumatic for everyone involved and, as we saw during the last spate of Somalia based piracy, the costs of an incident can run into the millions of dollars.
You can debate whether it is a little bit mad for Gray Page to have focused some of its experience into developing a new defensive barrier for the perimeter of ships. But it would surely be madness to end up in the position where the shipping industry was to behave as if a certain amount of violent crime against seafarers was tolerable.
DFENCE is our solution to a problem in front of us and a contribution to answering that bigger challenge.