Please note – the views in the following feature are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Safe Travels Magazine. Before travel, we recommend that you always do your own research, read travel advisories and buy appropriate travel insurance.

Gerry Northwood, Chief Operating Officer at MAST Ltd

Twitter: @Mast_security




Gerry is the Chief Operating Officer of MAST. Since leaving the Royal Navy, where he reached the rank of Captain, he has enjoyed success in applying his hard won operations experience and skills to the commercial sector. During his naval career he commanded operations against Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean and narcotics smugglers in the Caribbean. He played a key role in the creation of the European Union Naval Force (EUNAVFOR) and Maritime Security Centre Horn of Africa (MSCHOA) and for this he was awarded an OBE.

Designer security for superyachts

The requirement for security in a superyacht is a function of budget, environment and lifestyle. At one end of the spectrum a yacht that spends its life in a very secure marina, has a small and trusted crew, and an owner whose protection as a high-net-worth individual matches his or her environment and lifestyle, will perhaps require only basic locking arrangements and alarm systems. At the other end, a superyacht that visits exotic and potentially dangerous places will need to take a very different approach to security. In this instance, fitting high-tech surveillance and alarm systems, and supplementing those with experienced manpower ready to handle a difficult situation, may be vital. Both have the same objective – to keep people safe. But the means to achieve this will be different.

The incident last year where Kim Kardashian was robbed at gunpoint in her room in Paris is a stark reminder of how a high-net-worth individual can be vulnerable to inadequate security arrangements. From the use of social media to the lack of physical security on the evening in question, it is arguable that her security arrangements did not match the potential threat to her safety.

The same applies to the security of superyachts, but on a magnified scale. Superyacht security must take account of the owner’s and guests’ needs as well as the frequently changing physical environment in which the yacht might be operating.

A striking observation made by the team at MAST is that a vessel’s security framework is rarely developed and tailored to its risk assessment. This might sound like an obvious oversight but the truth is that many security systems are selected off the shelf and fitted because they are a component of another element of the yacht’s equipment fit. Add to this a lack of a security strategy at the design stage and the vessel may be built or refitted with a set of security systems which are not properly aligned to her future use.

Cyber security is a good case in point. AV/IT systems offer the yacht important functionality, from navigation and ship management to surveillance to entertainment. These systems will be cyber protected – to a point. But all too often, at no stage has anyone with experience of cybercrime actually stress tested or risk assessed the installed system. Without appropriate and robust testing,  weaknesses cannot be identified and the vessel will be vulnerable to other parties taking control of critical systems which could lead to other crimes such as theft or kidnap.  Recent malware attacks on the shipping company Maersk and the NHS have demonstrated how damaging to business and potentially to lifestyle and safety, cyber crime can be.

The same applies to the vessel’s physical security. It has been common to fit motor cars with central locking systems since the 1980s. As these have become more sophisticated we have seen car crime massively reduced. Yet in the yachting world, while keyless entry is fairly common (though by no means universal), the centralisation of the vessel’s outer door locks and the integration with other systems such as alarms, sensors and surveillance is lacking.

Of course, highly integrated systems come at a cost. Therefore it is important that there is a risk assessment of the vessel which is tailored to the environment that it is likely to be exposed to, and that it matches the security and lifestyle requirements of the owner and guests.

The advantage of highly integrated systems is that they are rarely intrusive, are frequently labour-saving and, when operated correctly, can be relied upon to enhance the vessel’s security posture in a heartbeat. This is doubly important in areas where legal constraints might make other security measures such as armed guarding illegal.

These are in most cases a much better solution than fitting safe rooms and armour plated windows to the vessel. While these do have their place where the risk of kidnap is considered very high, simple measures which alert the crew in good time of an impending threat, and allow them to quickly lock down the vessel, are much safer and more likely to deter an attack. After all, criminals, like terrorists, will seek to identify and exploit soft targets.

Ultimately the best security systems are not just robust and appropriate but adaptable. The lives and lifestyles of super yacht owners rarely stand still. Creating security systems that can successfully flex to reflect these changing circumstances is the challenge. Just ask Kim.


Like what you read? Sign up here for our free Daily Updates.

We also send out a Weekly K+R Update, bundling together all the kidnap, ransom and extortion news of the week in one easy to read newsletter. (Same form – options at the end.)

 Other ways to stay up to date:

Follow and subscribe!

Follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. You can also subscribe to our free newsletters - the Daily Updates and the Weekly K+R Update.