MSO Training – Choosing a Maritime Security Officer Course


February 6, 2014 - By Sonny Schürer

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The maritime security industry has evolved rapidly in response to the growing threat of international piracy. As the overall market for maritime security services increases, more and more are considering Maritime Security Officer (MSO) training. This article takes a look at three key trends in the maritime security industry – and what they mean to people looking for the right Maritime Security Officer (MSO) training course.

Trend 1: The market for maritime security will continue to grow even if Somali piracy is down

According to the International Maritime Bureau, worldwide piracy attacks in 2013 fell to 264, their lowest level in three years. This was a significant decrease from 297 in 2012, 439 in 2011 and the record 445 in 2010.

The main reason for the global decline is the sharp decrease in attacks off the Somali coast in the Gulf of Aden. Only 15 attacks were reported in 2013, down from 75 in 2012 and 237 in 2011.

There are many explanations for why Somali piracy is falling, among them higher cruising speeds, rerouting, more razor wire and citadels implementing BMP4.

But the most important reason for fewer hijackings is clear: more and more ships are actively defending themselves with security officers – most of whom are armed.

The overall market for MSOs will continue to grow, even as hijackings off the Somali coast are falling, because anti-piracy strategies are working and MSOs are an important part of what works. Adding armed security to ships deters piracy, saves lives and billions of dollars in cost.

Takeaway for those looking for MSO training:

  • There are jobs now, and the job market will continue to grow, but MSOs should be prepared to face competition for the best jobs.
  • The best MSO jobs will go to those who have the best training and qualifications – so be sure to choose the training that will give you the best employability.

Trend 2: Armed security officers are here to stay

Clearly, the fact that MSOs are armed has deterred piracy. To date, no ship carrying armed guards has been successfully taken, although several have been attacked.

An estimated 60% of all merchant ships travelling through the Gulf of Aden now carry arms, and an increasing number of countries allow ships sailing under their flags to do so.

Takeaway for those looking for MSO training:

  • First, be sure that your MSO training includes weapon training and instruction in the types of weapons that are most commonly used in maritime security situations.
  • Second, it’s important that the training takes place in a country where these weapons can actually be fired: laws in some countries prohibit live weapon use for training, so be sure your training is in a country that allows this. Training with toys is not the way forward.
  • Third, weapon training must lead to Maritime Weapon Competency (MWC) certification, and must include specific instruction in
    • Rules for the Use of Force (RUF)
    • Weapon safety onboard
    • Marksmanship principles
    • Weapons familiarization and handling test
    • Sighting systems
    • Long-range engagement of water targets
    • Maritime scenarios
    • Qualification shooting tests
    • Fourth, if your MSO training provider offers it and you don’t have previous training in it, consider adding certification in Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC). While not mandatory, this module does prepare you to deal with battlefield trauma situations and treat casualties, prevent additional casualties and complete the mission.

Trend 3: The gap between the high end and the low end of the maritime security market – and MSO training – will continue to widen.

As the maritime security industry grows, many new players are interested in getting a piece of the gold rush action. Unfortunately, not all of the recent entrants in the MSO training field have applied the same standards of best practice.

We believe the gap between high quality and low quality in MSO training will become increasingly apparent over the next few years. Organizations that issue MSO certificates based on paying the fee and showing up – rather than pass/fail programs that actually test how well participants learn the course material – will become known for what they are. Shipping companies will learn to distinguish between MSOs who have had excellent or so-so training. The better jobs will go to those with the better training.

Ultimately, as the MSO training field matures, we will learn that this highly specialized area is similar to many others in at least one way: you get what you pay for, and quality and cost go hand in hand.

Takeaway for those looking for MSO training:

First, make sure that your MSO training covers the essentials that get you in the door and on board:

  • STCW95 requirements/BST certificate: Earning your Basic Safety Training (BST) certificate means you know your maritime safety basics. The internationally accepted Standard of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping code, as last amended in 1995 (STCW95), ensures that everyone on board a merchant vessel has basic safety training regarding procedures, equipment, working environment and employment conditions. In order to work on a ship, the STCW 95 code – and any employer – requires you to take a five-day basic safety training course that actually comprises four modules: Firefighting, Personal Survival, Personal Safety and Elementary First Aid. BST according to STCW95 not only is a prerequisite for working at sea, it also provides excellent basic skills. See more at: http://www.stcw.org/
  • ENG-1 medical certificate: You need an ENG-1 medical certificate to work at sea. A basic physical examination, by a doctor who is certified to do so, is all it takes.
  • Seaman’s Discharge Book and vaccination certificates: You’ll need to have your yellow fever vaccination and your seaman’s discharge book up to date. Make sure your MSO training helps you get this done.
  • Weapons training: MWC and TCC certifications – see above

Second, be sure your instructors know their stuff both theoretically and practically – and that they have fresh, real-world experience gained in action.

Things change rapidly – also in the Gulf of Aden – and you want to learn from people who have relevant and recent postings where piracy threat levels are high. Before you sign up for training, go ahead and ask what the instructors have been doing for the last 6-18 months.

Finally, do your homework to ensure the quality of your training.

The MSO training field has no overall international system to safeguard quality, so you will have to do your own due diligence. Here are a few questions to ask:

  • Is the MSO training company ISO 9001:2008 or 28007 certified? This is simple – either they are or they aren’t. ISO certification isn’t something you can fake; compliance requires dedication to quality and proven methods.
  • Is the company providing maritime security services for ships from their own flag state? Are they approved by their own national police/security forces for operating with weapons? If the company isn’t operating legally with weapons and weapons export in its own country, and isn’t working for shipping firms based in its own country, this should be a warning sign to you.
  • How is their insurance, and how are they vetted by protection and indemnity clubs?

We’re interested in feedback on this blog – both from prospective MSO candidates and from other companies providing MSO training. What are your tips for choosing the right MSO training?

Learn more about maritime security services here.

Sonny Schürer

Senior Vice President

Sonny has helped manage AS Solution since its founding in 2003. A leading member of The Danish Trade Organization for Safety and Security and an active member of ASIS, Sonny has extensive experience in executive protection, event security, investigations and maritime security.

As a member of AS Solution’s management team, Sonny heads the company’s European operations from its Copenhagen-based European headquarters. Sonny has also overseen the development and growth of AS Solution’s anti-piracy services, Scandinavia’s largest maritime security service with operations worldwide.