Rubén Benítez
Director General
Integra Consulting & Marine Services
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View from the Top

Promoting Offshore Protection, Security

By Pedro Alcalá | Fri, 05/29/2020 - 10:12

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Integra Consulting & Marine Services in Ciudad del Carmen?

A: Business was beginning to increase when the COVID-19 crisis hit. We were not hitting levels of activity comparable to those previous to the 2014 downturn, which will arguably never return, but we were seeing more movement than before. In our line of business, there are always unexpected factors. COVID-19 and the oil barrel price crisis are just the latest ones. Despite offshore work, which is continuing after being classified as nationally essential, maritime activity has slowed down considerably. Shift changes for platforms and large vessels have been significantly extended. Offshore shifts of 28 days of work onboard versus 14 days of rest on land are now turning into shifts of 40 days of work onboard or more. This has limited the amount of interaction between offshore and land-based personnel.

Despite these measures, COVID-19 cases have been detected at offshore facilities in the Campeche Basin. This limits business for offshore services companies even more, because every time this occurs the affected company needs to limit or cancel trips and services to that particular facility to protect its employees. As a Recognized Security Organization (RSO), this also has consequences for us. On one hand, we have to take these same precautions, while also making sure that other companies are abiding by them. On the other hand, our ability to take on that supervisory role can also be limited since it involves boarding these companies’ vessels to verify their security and safety systems and protocols. 

Q: What steps is Integra Consulting & Marine Services taking to evolve as a company?

A: Our company is certified in ISO 9001 by DNV GL. This certification extended into three main areas: training, consulting and as an RSO. We are also in the process of being certified to the ISO 17020 standard, a certification that is issued by the Mexican Accreditation Entity (Entidad Mexicana de Acreditación, or EMA). In December, we also organized a successful seminar in Ciudad del Carmen entitled “National Security in The Context of The International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS Code).” The seminar was attended by SEMAR´s representatives, the Harbor Master representatives and Port Administrations (APIs) from Campeche and Tabasco, and the Company Security Officers (CSOs) of various companies. This seminar was divided into three important subjects:  national security related to the protection code, the distinction between security versus protection and, finally, the subject of piracy. As we saw in this seminar, there is clearly a great deal of demand for information, training and expertise in these subjects. For many attendees, the seminar shattered their erroneous preconceptions regarding these subjects. Our intention is to continue with these seminars. With the COVID-19 measures in place, we are taking advantage of digital platforms to once again reinvent ourselves by moving our seminars online.

Our consulting business line has had its share of success, particularly in the subjects of vessel protection, the evaluation of protection plans and assistance for new companies. Recently, we helped a new company adapt to the national vessel protection code.

Our business line that focuses on verifications performing an RSO has continued normally, although it has been impacted by COVID-19. These activities continue as long as all health and safety measures are followed, and our personnel have access to complete personal protective equipment (PPE) kits. While other companies check certificates remotely while delaying renovations, or evaluate applications and paperwork through digital means, we cannot do the same when evaluating protection plans because they are confidential. We cannot compromise their privacy and security by requesting their protection plans digitally or even with a courier. This is a document that must be physically checked onsite as it has to be compared with actual safety protocols being executed onboard the vessel.

Q: What is the difference between protection and security?

A: Our approach during the seminar was to distinguish between national security and having a protection code. We talked about the basic concepts related to national security and the elements that compose that nation, as are the population, territory and government. We also discussed the factors that can threaten any country’s national security. This led us to a discussion of the international geopolitics’ context from 1990 to the implementation of the latest protection code in 2010 up to the present day. We elaborated a timeline of significant terrorist events during those decades to map significant actions and measures implemented in response to those events by governments worldwide. We also cross-referenced this with the development of UN recommendations, such as those implemented by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Some of these regulations were specifically meant to prevent acts of terrorism and crime on port facilities and vessels, and that is when the ISPS code is born. We also talk about concepts like “national security” vary from country to country. The definition depends on the real geopolitical threats that each country faces.

All of this frames the history of the international vessel protection code. It also leads us to the distinction between protection and security. It is a distinction that had to be developed by these same countries to add clarity to all emerging regulations and standards. Protection is physical. It has to be applied to specific physical entities like a vessel or an individual and what has been done to protect that entity from threats to its physical integrity. Security, on the other hand, is more related to subjects like industrial safety and security, which are to be defined through procedures: what has to be done to prevent the arrival of a potential threat. Security policies can obviously promote and create greater degrees of protection but the distinction between the two concepts is still crucial. 

The concept of piracy is connected to the formal definition found in the UN 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea. This convention also establishes the parameters that define other concepts, such as “territorial waters.” Although this technically might vary from country to country, the international parameter for what constitutes territorial waters is that 12 miles beyond territorial waters is considered piracy, while 12 nautical miles within the shore is considered armed robbery. This is an important distinction for the Mexican oil and gas industry. It means that all of these unfortunate criminal events taking place in platforms and offshore vessels in the Campeche basin cannot be categorized as piracy, but instead as armed robberies. This includes the illegal dismantlement of fixed platforms to sell their parts. These kinds of platforms are sometimes referred to as “satellite” platforms. Some are unmanned because they are old and abandoned, relics of past exploration or development drilling campaigns. As a result, no surveillance is applied to them.

Vessels are a different story, and direct armed robberies can take place. Initially, these robberies targeted the engines on fiberglass fishing vessels. However, given the importance of the fishing sector in these regions, this led to significant social pressure to end these robberies. This, in turn, led to much of this crime migrating toward offshore vessels, usually within or near prominent anchoring areas. Criminals have gotten bolder. They are now heading further into open seas and will board and rob these vessels. There have been some cases of injury, although losses have mainly been economical.

Q: How are regulators coordinating themselves to address these security issues?

A: SEMAR is the one public institution that has been taking a dominant role here through its Port Captaincy and Maritime Affairs Unit (Unidad de Capitanías de Puerto y Asuntos Marítimos, or UNICAPAM). The SEMAR are constitutionally designated to safeguard tasks in national waters. Although most of these are technically armed robberies in territorial waters and not acts of piracy, the jurisdiction over them would belong to the federal attorney’s office. However, because these assets and personnel in the Mexican oil and gas industry are considered nationally strategic, SEMAR is the government entity that takes over completely of the security in Mexican waters. 

 

Integra Consulting & Marine Services is a Mexican company based in Ciudad del Carmen. It provides consultancy and supply services to the oil, maritime and port industries. Its goal is to facilitate new and existing business in the market. 

Pedro Alcalá Pedro Alcalá Senior Journalist & Industry Analyst