Secure at Sea: Consider armed security in high-risk waters

Sep 18, 2019 by Corey D. Ranslem

Secure@Sea: by Corey D. Ranslem

Considering the adventurous nature of yachting coupled with the deterioration of the global civil discourse, high-risk transits are becoming more common for large yachts. Armed security teams are being used more often to help mitigate those high-risk transits. 

Back in 2008, we saw piracy spool up quickly off the coast of Somalia, which lead to the use of armed security teams by cruise lines, cargo ships and large yachts. Security teams, along with the presence of military forces, helped reduce the number of violent piracy acts in this region. 

Large yachts continue to push the boundaries outside the normal milk run, making transits to some of the more dangerous parts of the world. Current world hot spots include the Gulf of Aden, Straits of Malacca, Gulf of Guinea, coastal Venezuela, Sulu and Celebes seas, the Straits of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf. Security teams can provide protection, and great piece of mind, when transiting through high-risk regions. So, when should you carry an armed security team on board your yacht? The decision matrix is not difficult if you have the correct information.  

We’ve covered various points to consider when bringing on board a security team – flag state, transit routes, and crew and team capabilities – in past articles. Most of the major flag states allow weapons and armed security teams on board. However, to fully understand the nuances, it’s always recommended to check with your flag state representatives. There are several countries where it is not legal to have guns on board your vessel while transiting through their territorial seas (e.g., Saudi Arabia and India).

Once you understand your flag and transit route requirements, the next biggest issue to consider is the logistics of getting the armed team on board. You may be in a high-risk area, but it may not be logically possible to get a team on board, so plan ahead. The armed teams need to transit in and out of countries where they can legally travel with, or obtain, weapons for the escort. The more difficult the logistics to get the armed team to the yacht, the more expensive it will be in the overall budget. Also, if you can’t immediately disembark a team once the transit is complete, it could cause additional issues for the vessel, owner or charter guests.

Insurance is another factor to consider when it comes to embarking armed teams. Does your vessel’s  insurance allow for temporary riders to cover an armed team on board? Also, make sure the company supplying the armed team is a registered company in a legitimate jurisdiction with the proper types of insurance to cover their team and operations. It’s a good idea to have your yacht and crew added as an additional insured under their policy.

Keep in mind that technology is continuing to advance when it comes to determining worldwide hot zones. Consider using that technology as the starting point in determining the need for a security team. Currently there are two hot spots where it is not recommended to carry security teams: the Gulf of Guinea and the Straits of Hormuz. The current situation in the Straits of Hormuz is being precipitated by the Iranian government, so a security team would only cause problems and could potentially result in an arrest of the crew and seizure of the boat. And in the Gulf of Guinea, it is currently illegal to have armed security teams on board.

Different security companies have diverse personnel and capabilities depending on their location and the destination of your transit. There is also a difference in price, depending on the location of the company. Companies in the United States are typically more expensive because of the extra insurance requirement. Companies in the U.K. and U.S. commonly have easier access to highly trained security specialists and can provide personnel for various risk levels of a transit. Consider the potential threats you face during the passage and what companies have the personnel and experience to mitigate those threats. 

Since most yachts aren’t constrained by budget, bring on a team and get out and explore.

Corey Ranslem, CEO at International Maritime Security Associates (, has more than 24 years of combined Coast Guard and maritime industry experience. Comments are welcome below.