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VIP Close Protection

Close Protection Security a Necessity or Accessory_ Article published in Yachting Matters Winter edition 2011

The world of Superyachts is associated with wealth, glitz and glamour.  The majority of large Superyacht owners are successful business men and women who do not court media attention however, the sheer size of their yacht arouses attention when entering a port or anchors off a coastline.  Many celebrities either own yachts or charter yachts to escape the media attention.  Even whilst onboard yachts the paparazzi will stalk to get exclusive pictures to fuel the appetite of their fans in the countless magazines featuring the gossip columns.

Superyachts visit many remote and beautiful locations worldwide however, the world is currently in a financial crisis and poverty breads corruption and crime.  We have witnessed SY Tiara robbed off Corsica in August 2008.  It was reported that over €100,000 in cash was stolen and the nine German charter guests were also robbed of personal possessions and jewelry.  Captain Drew Gollan of SY Perseus was fatally shot and murdered whilst ashore in Antigua in January 2009 and more recently Motor Yacht Cheetah Moon chef Ludovic Guillevin was brutally murdered whilst visiting St Martin.  Although the two tragedies happened in the Caribbean it may be interesting to note that London suffered 164 muggings per day in 2003 and the crime rate is much higher although not so publicized unless it happens to be someone of fame.

Recently Formula 1 owner Bernie Eccelstone and his girlfriend were attacked and robbed outside his Knightsbridge based offices in London.  The 5 foot 2 inches, 80 year old billionaire was punched and kicked by four men who were lying in wait as he arrived at his business headquarters.  The gang escaped with £200,000 worth of jewelry including Mr Eccelstons’s watch and a diamond ring.

Sadly the facts above all happened and I’m sure all those concerned never felt any need to have security protection or security training.  More often than not security is an afterthought until a situation or threat arises.

The world of security is about minimizing risk and analyzing the risk to create a safe environment in which to operate in.  This can be very intrusive for some and requires the talents of specialists to allow people to relax but still feel secure.  Its also about planning for the what if and being able to execute a swift reaction to an incident.  Detailed planning often requires an advance party to arrive early to reconnoiter the local areas to locate medical facilities, top restaurants or simply to liaise with a local security provider as it may be easier to use a local provider who know the area well and talk the local language.

More often than not Close protection is implemented after the event has happened.  Many companies offer Close Protection, Executive Protection or Bodyguard services which are basically all terms used to refer to Personal Protection be it Corporate or Private individuals with threats or perceived threats against them or their families.  Mention the word Bodyguard and ask people what they associate with the phrase they either picture Kevin Costner and Whitney Huston starring in the hit film or imagine muscle clad men dressed in dark suites wearing sun glasses.  This is a common perception regarding the world of Close Protection Operatives who frequently do fit the description above.

For many celebrities the gorilla type bodyguard is used simply for the image and intimidation value, as a certain look is required.  This approach is not very low key as the bruiser standing next to the Principle pushing people out of the way is not ideal for keeping a low profile.

Many Superyacht owners have Close Protection teams looking after them and their families but yacht crews are left to their own devices when ashore.  Kidnapping for ransom in many countries is common practice in areas of South America and usually involves armed gangs.  It takes seconds for a motorbike to strike and have a handbag snatched or worse.

The Internet has opened the world up to a hive of information but also allows information to be used by some with criminal intent.  Google Earth street view has opened up a whole new research tool to criminals.  Many companies have information on their websites which play into the hands of would be aggressors as the marketing department boast about their successes placing photographs of CEOs or senior management figures on the web for all to identify in the street.  Information can be found with ease on individuals, companies and their assets.  Certain websites allow AIS information to be freely available and yacht movements can be identified in advance.  Social network sites such as Facebook allow yacht crew to keep in touch with family and friends but also allows information to be published relating to charter guests or owners which has led to crew members being fired in the past.

Many yachts simply use crewmembers to accompany guests ashore but this practice is all very well until something happens that causes either harm or injury to the guests.  Security is a cost that some would rather avoid however there is an old saying that “prevention is better than cure”.  What is the value of an owners child or family member?  I would suggest its much higher than the cost of security.

To conduct Close Protection in the UK individuals must hold a Security Industry Authority (SIA) license.  The training syllabus for the course amounts to 150 hours of course work covering a wide range of topics.  Male and Female students are taught surveillance awareness, operational planning, law and legislation, interpersonal skills, teamwork, foot and mobile techniques and driving techniques to name but a few of the vast number of disciplines required to become effective Close Protection operatives.  Conducting a course and getting the certificate is all very well but it takes much more than a badge to make a good Close Protection operative.

What makes a good Protection officer?  Experience of many different situations and cultures help make a security operative understand the differences between every day life and a potential threatening situation in the making.  The sixth sense that is required comes with experience and years of being in situations where danger is present be it from war, terrorism or daily life.  Good planning and research skills are essential as things don’t always go as you would expect so the “what if’s” require to be covered and plan B needs to be considered.  Be prepared for the unexpected such as a car accident or medical emergency.

Good communication, organisational skills and integrity are essential.  Trust between a principle and his personal protection officer is not something that happens over the course of a weekend as its takes time.  Weapon handling skills for some are essential due the nature of the threats and the countries where they reside but in the main opportunities to carry concealed weapons are very limited.

Within the world of Superyachts having a security presence by your side is not always the best way forward but having someone watching the surrounding area is often enough depending on the threats that exist to the Principle in question.  The grey man concept of security is one way to allow an owner and their guests, enjoy the experience as security being present and not seen is I would suggest the way forward for many.