Mercy Ships holds the security of its crew, which includes volunteers from some thirty to forty nations, in highest priority. Mercy Ships does not serve in conflict areas, although it has served in post-conflict venues, such as Sierra Leone and Liberia, after the cessation of hostilities. Our security protocol is developed from assessments conducted by our Advance Team as well as input from various embassies and government officials. Mercy Ships employs 6 full-time Gurkha security guards, supervised by our own Ship Security Officer. There are trained security personnel on duty 24/7. While a Mercy Ship vessel is always prepared to cast off in an emergency situation, none has been required to do so in its thirty-five year history.
Prior to the vessel arriving in a developing nation for a field service period, an Advance Team conducts a security assessment, and findings are provided to the CSO for consideration in advanced security planning. Such assessments are based on input from different governments with embassies in-country, input from NGO and multilateral agencies, and on-the-ground surveys. When the ship is in a developing nation for a ten-month field service period, a working relationship is established with the Regional Security Officer, usually an individual on the US Embassy staff, as well as other relevant contacts. The local security situation is carefully monitored and security protocols are put in place as necessary. At times a host nation may experience varying degrees of political and ethnic tension, requiring such protocols as avoiding certain routes or areas, or otherwise ensuring the safety of crew and patients, and the uninterrupted delivery of services.
Mercy Ships complies with the International Ship & Port Facility Security Code (ISPS Code) and has a regulatory approved Ship Security Plan (SSP) for its vessel, Africa Mercy. Mercy Ships Company Security Officer (CSO) is responsible for compliance and administration oversight of the approved SSP. The CSO or his designate is available 24/7 to respond to any incidents identified by the ship’s master.
In accordance with the signed protocol with a host nation, its government is responsible for providing port security:
5.7.2 Security. The [HOST NATION] and Port Authority, pursuant to International Ship and Port Security Code, shall provide adequate security arrangements for the vessel and the crew at all times. All security measures shall be provided by and paid for by the [HOST NATION].
This security covers the entrance of the port to the gangway of the ship, and may involve one or more control points/perimeters. Most ports visited are in compliance with ISPS codes.
Mercy Ships contracts with British Gurkha Overseas Service (BGOS) for the provision of qualified security guards that control access to a hospital ship. There are six Ship Security Guards onboard, supervised by a Ship Security Officer (SSO). The SSO maintains appropriate liaison with local security forces of each country the ship visits.
A Mercy Ship sails much less than most commercial vessels, with some 20 days a year at sea. Mercy Ships closely monitors multiple streams of information regarding risk areas at and plans its routes carefully. It maintains best practices when sailing and maintains anti-piracy protocols and equipment. Security incidents in its service region have occurred predominantly with commercial vessels anchored or moored offshore, and have primarily involved oil cargoes.