Sign of the Times
Part 2: Biernat believes that terrorism has supplanted piracy as the real threat to ships and yachts today.
By Capt. Bill Pike
Capt. Dan Biernat concurs. Standing off to the side while peering at me with amused solicitude, Philbrick’s partner and fellow yacht security instructor at Wärtsilä emphasizes the pair’s heavy reliance on “experiential learning,” an approach typical of military boot camps and police training academies. “This approach tends to make things more memorable,” Biernat suggests.
I smile ruefully at the two guys for a moment, marveling at the differences between them. While Philbrick’s every inch the tough, veteran cop, Biernat looks like a bespectacled professor or diplomat, in spite of the fact that he’s a retired master mariner, with a career that began at a maritime academy in Szczecin, Poland, and ended with the command of oil tankers and cruise ships worldwide.
Biernat is more than just a highly experienced seafarer, however. He’s a member of working committees and groups for the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a prestigious United Nations body that promulgates international maritime standards, the SOLAS convention of 1974 being the most noteworthy. As such, he’s party to the considerable expansion of SOLAS regulations that began shortly after September 11, 2001. While this expansion—subsumed under the title International Ship and Port Facility Security Code or ISPS Code—presently beefs up security for large commercial vessels and port facilities only, it is likely to up the ante for yachts in the near future, according to Biernat.
“The trend is obvious,” he explains. “Even now, during times of heightened security, some yachts may already be subject to baggage-screening procedures while in port, as well as vendor-access denials and other restrictions stipulated by the codes as they pertain to port facilities. Such things are important for owners and crews to know before they arrive in these ports, which is why it is so important to teach them.”
Biernat is a yacht-security true believer. I’d spent much of the earlier part of the day with him in a classroom at the Wärtsilä facility in nearby Fort Lauderdale, listening to his heartfelt descriptions of a portion of the curriculum he and Philbrick teach there. We delved into questions like how to assess a particular yacht’s risk of being attacked, how to develop a security plan, how to recognize various kinds of weaponry as well as poisonous gases and other dangerous substances, and how to deal with various aspects of human behavior that surface during terrorist incidents.
Biernat believes that terrorism has supplanted piracy as the real threat to ships and yachts today. He says terrorists are more sophisticated, committed, and ruthless than pirates, primarily because they’re inspired by ideology, not larcenous intent. “Pirates merely want your money,” he argues, “but terrorists want to make a global statement, perhaps by using trained personnel to commandeer a yacht, summarily dispose of her crew, and then use her to blow up a port, a cruise ship, or an international canal.”
The ramifications of this point of view are profound, of course, especially when considered from the standpoint of personal response to a legitimate threat. “While some people advise passivity and negotiative agreeableness if one is confronted,” Biernat says, “Walter and I advise immediate, educated action in most cases—it is often the only way.”
I rub my neck gingerly, looking around the brightly lit room, taking in the mug shots of the September 11th terrorists, the dummy guns and knives laying about, the sage watchfulness of the big cat on the table nearby, and the two friendly guys standing in front of me, telling me, more or less, that yachting as a way of life is changing forever.
The pain in my neck is gone, but my impressions of the day and night remain. In fact, they linger still, although I’d most assuredly prefer that they didn’t.
Wärtsilä North America Phone: (954) 327-4700. www.wartsila.com.
This article originally appeared in the April 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.