Protective Clothing for Maritime Security Operatives

Maritime Security has become increasingly important as international shipping continues to grow and make up the vast majority of world trade. Providing protection for this vital part of our economy is also becoming more and more dangerous as Piracy continues to thrive and grow. While the benefits to the Pirates cannot be easily assessed, the cost to the international community is vast. While ships and crews continue to rely on Private Security to keep them safe, what can these Security Forces rely on to keep themselves safe? The simple answer is body armour.

What is Body Armour?

Body armour refers to a number of different items, including bullet proof vests, tactical armour, and even ballistic helmets. Understanding the nuances of body armour is necessary for Maritime Security Officers (MSOs) to choose the right protection. This in turn will allow them to work in hostile environments safely and confidently.

So What Exactly Do MSOs Need From Body Armour?

One of the most important things to consider for an MSO is exactly what style of vest is most appropriate. Those who employ Maritime Security Professionals will likely want not only the experience and equipment that MSOs bring, but also the intimidation factor that their presence will bring; the presence of armed security may be enough to deter attackers. With this in mind, it may be beneficial for MSOs to have overt body armour, which is worn over clothing and further displays preparedness and professionalism. These overt vests have the advantage of being customisable with logos, insignia, and pouches for additional equipment.

Piracy continues to grow, but it has also shifted in location, and areas that were previously not commonly targeted by Pirates have become more dangerous. For example, whereas piracy used to be most common off the Eastern and Southern coasts of Africa, attacks have shifted so much so that nearly 60% of all Pirate attacks occur in South East Asia. This means that an increasing number of civilian vessels are targeted, and kidnappings have increased. MSOs may be called to protect civilian ships therefore, and may not want to wear an overt vest. If discretion is important, then a covert vest will offer the necessary protection in a comfortable vest worn under clothing.

What Can Body Armour Protect Against?

It is not enough just to consider the style of wear; body armour is available at various levels of protection. Just as Piracy increases in frequency, Pirates are also increasingly using high calibre weaponry and ammunition. Bullet proof vests are graded according to the testing standards outlined by the US National Institute of Justice. These ‘NIJ Levels’ outline exactly what ammunition vests are capable of stopping, with vests at lower levels designed to stop the smaller and slower calibres found in handguns.

However, MSOs may need protection against rifles, automatics, and even armour-piercing rounds. For these weapons only the highest levels of protection will suffice, and this requires rigid plates in addition to soft Kevlar. These plates at Level III or IV will naturally increase the weight and bulk of a bullet proof vest, but are still light enough to be equipped in covert vests. However, they are only recommended for those who expect to face the relevant threats.

Other Weapons

Firearms will be the major threat to any MSO, and protection needs to reflect this. However, there are other weapons that need to be considered. The ultimate goal of any Pirate is to board a vessel, and preventing this should be the main goal of Maritime Security. However, if an MSO finds him or herself in a close quarters battle, there is the chance that firearms will no longer be the major threat. Edged and spiked weapons can be just as deadly as firearms, and a bullet proof vest cannot protect you.

While bullet resistant armour uses soft fabrics that are nevertheless very strong, edged and spike proof vests require additional materials. This is because edged weapons can cut through the fabric, whereas spiked weapons pass through the gaps in the fibres. If weapons like knives, axes or machetes are likely to be present, MSOs will need a vest that uses chainmail and/or plastic laminate to help protect themselves.

This article has been produced by SafeGuard Clothing, for more information on body armour and stab proof vests visit


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