The Ian Millen Interview: Maritime surveillance and security

The Report Magazine went to interview Ian Millen, COO of Dryad Maritime, a specialist company providing a range of maritime security products and services that are essential in times of heightened security risks to keep seafarers safe. Dryad Maritime says it is a maritime operations company with a high grade intelligence capability. But what does this actually mean? Mike Schwarz went in search of some answers.

Q. Your company slogan interests me: ‘Dryad Maritime is a maritime operations company with a high grade intelligence capability’. What are the core services that you provide? I understand it is more comprehensive than just giving details of the threat of worldwide piracy attacks?

Dryad was founded in 2007, originally as a maritime intelligence company providing risk mitigation services and safety monitoring to vessels transiting through high risk areas of maritime piracy and crime. This remains our core service, but in response to the company’s growth, the development of new voyage efficiency products, and changes to shipping regulations, which have impacted greatly on vessel operating costs, last year we took the decision to reposition the company. With our new integrated risk and operational services, we are now able to help ship owners, managers and charterers to operate efficiently as well as safely. The great news for us is that our range of risk and efficiency services are built upon our 24/7 operations room and are delivered by our technology-enabled specialist staff.

Q. How many staff do you employ and do they need a special background to work for you?

We employ around 35 staff, of whom 70% are former Royal Navy personnel. Cumulatively, our team has a collective maritime operations experience of over 500 years. This is something that we are very proud of and make good use of as this gives us a depth of knowledge and analytical base that we believe is unrivalled in the maritime security marketplace. Although all of our operations team come from naval intelligence and/or operations backgrounds, we have employed analysts without this maritime heritage. As a commercial company, we employ specialists in other fields such as HR, Finance, Marketing & Communications, IT and Compliance; specialisations that can be found outside of the military environment. Our diverse workforce is a mix of all of the above and is glued together by a strong sense of purpose, good teamwork and enthusiasm.

Q. Typically what type of organisations are you working with and what type of vessels are involved, for example only big ships, or others such as round the world racing yachtsmen?

We support companies across the spectrum of the maritime industry, from vessel charterers and owners to technical operators and other suppliers in the maritime security sector such as those providing embarked guards. The vessels we support directly and on behalf of others range from superyachts to supertankers and all types in between.

The commercial sector continues to be our largest client base but we work closely with a number of companies in the legal, insurance and security sectors as well as those engaged in international offshore racing events, such as the Volvo Ocean Race. The services we provide being as equally applicable to those operating large fleets of ships, as they are to the private owner of a yacht.

Ops_Room_PictureQ. I have been fortunate to visit your head office operation and command centre in Portsmouth, but what can you tell readers of The Report magazine about it?

Our operations room is probably as your readers would imagine it. The room is dominated by an Audio-Visual (AV) wall display, complete with interactive charts, TVs and time zone information. This acts as a focal point for our overall situational awareness, from the large projected displays of our vessel positions and potential threats to the information streaming in from international news feeds. The rest of the room is filled with our operators and analysts, who use their own geo-spatial and database systems to gather, process and generate operational intelligence and efficiency products. At the heart of this group of specialists sit our 24/7 desks who monitor their respective plots and keep in communication with the vessels that they are responsible for; collecting valuable information, issuing intelligence and weather-related reports and dealing with crisis situations should they occur. These elements, vessel safety and efficiency monitoring, could best be described as air traffic control for ships. Instead of hazards, we identify security threats from a risk perspective and save money and, hopefully, the environment from a vessel efficiency one.

Q. Without revealing your sources, how much of your work is based on hard evidence and how much on hearsay and trends?

In short, the answer is both as we collate information from a large number of open and privileged sources, all of which is assessed for credibility and reliability. As an intelligence provider, we have to investigate all information, both factual and hearsay. We need to collate masses of information and corroborate sources with others to get to the ground truth, in order to provide our clients with reliable reporting and valuable advice. Producing clear and unambiguous advice can be hard work, requiring both specialist knowledge and deep experience. Piecing together an intelligence picture can be like doing a jigsaw without the aid of the box lid and is often further complicated by having gaps where pieces are missing. Interpolating and extrapolating becomes a real art and draws heavily upon the experience of the analyst and wider team. Ultimately, our job is to report the facts, assess what they mean and provide recommendations to assist our clients. This process can either corroborate or deny hearsay as it presents itself.

Q. How often are you communicating with your clients, and by what means, about potential situations and developing threats?

This largely depends on the type of service that our clients are using. We have products and services with different time horizons – e.g. from 1 week, to multiple times a day. If a client is operating in a particularly high-risk area this can be even more should we need to update them following new intelligence to indicate a heightened risk to them. Being a 24 hour operation our clients also have access to email and telephone consultancy any time of day or night. We know that this is a source of great comfort and confidence to the masters and crews we support. In short, they know that they can speak to us at any hour of the day or night, wherever they are in the world if they have concerns.

Q. Clearly there are known trouble hot spots around the world, but are you able to foresee potential new threats before they take hold?

By continually monitoring political, religious and social stressors, and analysing historical risk data, it is possible to predict some, but not all, new threats. Another forecasting technique is to consider the probable impacts of current threats to identify new ones. For instance, the migrant crisis that we are seeing in the Mediterranean has come as a direct result of the civil war in Libya, as more and more refugees risk their lives at sea to flee the conflict. Where things change quickly, such as the situation in Yemen, it’s vitally important for us to quickly assess the likely impact of events upon our clients. In this particular case, we were able to establish that the situation in Yemeni ports was not as reported by port authorities, as well as identify the impact of maritime coalition forces seeking to blockade the country. Giving good advice in such a situation is built upon the foundations of methodical analysis, knowledge of the environment and normal patterns of life and an understanding of our clients and their objectives and plans.

Dryad_8597aQ. In your 2014 Maritime Crime figures report, (published in the March issue of The Report Magazine), Dryad gave a comprehensive overview of the threats region by region. How and why are the threats changing?

We have seen a significant downturn in piracy in the Indian Ocean over the last few years. This has been a result of increased naval presence in these regions, the use of PMSCs as a deterrent against attacks, and improved security measures being adopted by shipping companies. All have contributed to helping contain but not eliminate the threat. Should any one of these elements be removed then it is likely that we will see a notable increase in piracy as a result. The Gulf of Guinea has seen a slight decrease but we have seen a drop in tanker hijacks for cargo theft while kidnap of crew remains a real concern. Kidnap in Nigeria is endemic and the attacks at sea are just an extension of this threat. Southeast Asia is currently seeing the highest volume of maritime crime incidents globally. However, for the most part, this is often low level crime by local gangs. The significant increase in the hijack of small regional tankers seen last year continues into 2015. These hijacks are almost certainly intelligence led and are orchestrated by criminal syndicates. Without aggressive policing of the region waters and the arrest and detention of criminals, we are unlikely to see any drop in these crime figures in the near future. Outside of piracy and maritime crime, the shipping industry has other worries, such as the situation in Libya, Yemen and the Eastern Med, the impact of maritime migrants and terrorism in choke points like the Suez Canal. Plenty
to think about.

Q. I recently read that you have been commissioned by MYBA (the Worldwide Yachting Association) to produce a report on the potential threat that ISIS poses to superyachts sailing in the Mediterranean. So this is a two part question a) how do you map out such a project and b) how serious is the threat at this time?

That is correct. We were approached by MYBA to produce a report on the ISIS threat to superyachts in the Mediterranean following some media reports that ISIS could look to target these vessels in this region. We were asked to give our assessment of the legitimacy of the threat based on the intelligence we had at the time. For this project we looked to use our operational maritime experience, alongside a wide variety of available information to quantify the threat and assess the risk of IS in Libya mounting such attacks. The process involved is ingrained in our team from years of actual and exercise threat assessment work in their former roles in the Royal Navy. Without going into the detail of our assessment, we judged that the press reports were painting a picture not supported by the reality and that it was unlikely that IS would have the capability or motivation to mount attacks against superyachts in the Mediterranean, let alone the opportunity given that most yachts do not operate close to Libyan shores. As with all threat assessments, things can change for ill as well as good, so this is something we will continue to monitor. Recently reported plans to deploy maritime forces to deal with the Mediterranean migrant change the situation further as such naval forces will seek to dominate the water space they are operating in. The threat to aship in port can, in theory, be little more than that to a hotel in the same area, but as we recently saw with the terrorist attacks in Paris and Tunis, such terror attacks are possible and very difficult to predict.

Q. How much support (if any) do you need and get from governments locally and from the maritime world in general?

We get plenty of support from our sources in the maritime world, which range from the ship’s teams to trusted agents around the world. Governments are understandably more circumspect when it comes to sharing information. I’m afraid that there’s sometimes a tendency to view companies such as ours with some suspicion. It’s a shame really as our job is to look after our clients. We’re not trying to gain any advantage or obtain any secrets from governments. Actually, the reverse is true in that we have more to offer them than they’re likely to offer us, due to our knowledge, experience and resources. We always share our information freely with appropriate governments when we think it might help a ship’s crew and we understand why government agencies act in the way that they do.

Q. And finally, is there a message you have for marine surveyor in general and is there an intelligence based role they can play to help keep seafarers safe at sea?

My message to your readers and members is based on our collective interests. The maritime industry is massive and yet close knit – a real international community that crosses national boundaries and joins seafarers and those that support them in a family of professionals and friends. Your members are geographically diverse, well connected and have a very keen eye for detail. Most importantly, they likely share the duty of care that we have for international seafarers. With all of this in mind, I would encourage your members to use that attention to detail to draw the focus of our company and national agencies and organisations to anything they feel may threaten the wellbeing of mariners around the globe. If you think you’ve seen something that affects maritime security, then please feel free to contact us by email or one of the other bodies who have an interest in the safety of mariners, such as the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre, MTISC (Ghana), ReCaap, or whoever you think could use the information.

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