Traces of narcotics and hypodermic needles found with the bodies of two American security officers on the container ship Maersk Alabama suggested the deaths resulted from drug overdoses, a Seychelles government official told CNN on Thursday. -CNN

Sad deal. This is the second death report I have done here on the blog recently, and this is never fun to put out there. My heart goes out to the friends and family of the fallen.

As to the cause, the Seychelles government says there were narcotics and hypodermic needles found with the bodies. If true, perhaps heroin was the cause of death? I say this drug, just because there has been an increase in heroin related deaths in the US and around the world. Most notably the actor Seymour Hoffman just died from a heroin overdose. The only way to confirm that these guys died from an overdose or from tainted drugs is through an autopsy.

Also, where did the drugs come from? Were they locally bought when they came into port or did they transport them from the US? Who knows…

What is significant is the company reaction, which leads me to believe that they know more than what is openly being said. Here is the quote:

The Maersk Alabama’s owner, the Norfolk, Va.-based Maersk Line Ltd. also has said the deaths were not related to security duties or ship operations. The ship has since left the African port. Speers statement says the company has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to drugs and alcohol, and that based on past experience working with The Trident Group, it believes this is an isolated incident.
Still, the company is responding by requiring reviewing its personnel records to confirm that drug tests and background checks are current, among other things. Speer said The Trident Group will also implement a random drug testing program to increase the frequency it screens security personnel.

There is a problem with drug screening and contracting that needs to be emphasized here. If guys know that they will be tested as a requirement of work, then they will simply not take the contract until they are clean. When they accept the contract they know they are ready to take the test the company gives ‘randomly’, because they waited an adequate amount of time for the drugs to clear the body. That is the problem with drug testing and independent contractors. You might get a clean contractor upon hiring, but have no idea about their history.  That, and as soon as they pass the test, they go right back into drug use mode when they get on that contract. That’s if they have access to those drugs and they are not able to control their craving or dependence.

The same goes for alcohol. Companies do not test for alcohol and it is very difficult for companies to maintain a ‘zero tolerance’ for alcohol use out in the field, if their leaders don’t care. Or the leaders are drinking as well, and could care less about the policy. It all goes back to how strong of a leadership program the company has, and are the leaders in the field truly aligned with the company’s policies/strategies/goals?

Back to the dynamics of contracting, if these guys are actual employees that are employed ‘full time’ with the company, then I could see random drug tests as being effective. They could administer the things at any time, and know that they could truly catch those folks. But still, people are all the same, and they will always find a way to bypass these tests. Or the leaders out in the field could care less about what the company wants and will give a heads up to the guys that a test is coming.

You know, I can’t emphasize enough how damaging that kind of environment is. Weak leaders, or leaders that could care less about holding their people accountable, is a recipe for disaster when it comes drugs or alcohol. Fitzsimmons comes to mind as a reminder of why contracting and alcohol doesn’t mix. Or the AGNA episode. Or the Jorge Scientific video.

Another thing to remember is that some tests are not able to pick up all drugs. Or certain drugs are taken by contractors because they do not last in the body, which makes it easy to play the system. For example, there are some types of steroids that last in the body for 4 days. So a contractor could do a cycle, and time it for when they would be accepting a contract, and then they would take the drug test at the right time when they are clean.

Then of course there is the management of contractors and being aware of the signs of drug and alcohol use. Does the company’s leaders pay attention to this stuff, or are they looking the other way?  Who knows what happened in this deal, but if guys are standing post on a ship and high on drugs or drunk, then that just doesn’t sit well with fellow guards or the client. It’s the type of thing that gets people killed or it leads to companies losing contracts and gaining poor reputations.

I also want to talk about that last part. Reputation is everything, and the competition out there is fierce. There are numerous companies worldwide, all fighting for contracts in the maritime security industry, and the members of these companies can sometimes act pretty negatively (trash talking) towards other companies that are on the skyline.

Trident Group was the victim of this kind of trash talking after their contractors were involved in a shooting incident awhile back. The video of the incident went viral and numerous companies and contractors out there were trying to depict the men involved as out of control, even though they had no idea about the context of what was seen. That the boat had actually been attacked by the same pirate group twice in 72 hours! But hey, Trident Group still had a peanut gallery out there trying to talk down the company and make them out to be reckless or out of control.

With this current incident, this just gives the competition the ammunition they need to steal Trident Group’s business. That is the reality of it, and the speed of new media and social networking is relentless when it comes to spreading rumor or half truths.

Although with this particular contract, Maersk owes the Navy SEALs big time for the rescue of Capt Phillips, complete with a movie to document the whole thing. Given that quote about the company’s response to this incident, I imagine they are doing all they can to restore Maersk’s trust in the contractors they send out to protect them. I hope the company is taking a good look at it’s leadership out in the field as well.

When the autopsy comes up, I will make the edit. A big hat tip to everyone that contacted me via Facebook and sent me emails about this. I don’t think I have ever had that many people forward a story like that, and this really was some unique news for our industry. Everyone was trying to give me the heads up on this and I really appreciate that. -Matt

 

 

Drugs on Maersk ship where 2 ex-SEALs died
February 20, 2014
Drugs were in the room where two former Navy SEALs were found dead aboard the Maersk Alabama, a ship that was the focus of a 2009 hijacking dramatized in the movie “Captain Phillips,” a company spokesman said Thursday.
Police from the African island nation of Seychelles have given no cause of death for Mark Daniel Kennedy, 43, and Jeffrey Keith Reynolds, 44. The Americans were security contractors who were found dead Tuesday in a cabin on the ship while berthed in Port Victoria in the Indian Ocean.
“We are saddened by the tragedy and our thoughts are with the family and friends of the deceased men,” Maersk Line Ltd. spokesman Kevin Speers said in a statement.
Speers said the Seychelles police report includes observations about the presence of drugs and paraphernalia in the room where the two men were found dead, although the type of drug is unknown.
On Thursday, police spokesman Jean Toussaint, noted that officials were awaiting autopsies and said, “As far as I know there is no evidence of physical trauma” on either man’s body. Speers said the Maersk Alabama was cleared to leave Seychelles following the onboard investigation and that it is already underway.
The Maersk Alabama is a Norfolk, Va.-based container ship that provides feeder service to the east coast of Africa and employs security contractors to provide anti-piracy services. The two men who were found dead worked for a Virginia Beach, Va.-based maritime security firm, The Trident Group.
In a statement posted on its website, The Trident Group President Thomas Rothrauff said there “is no immediate indication as to the cause of death, but the deaths were not caused by operational activity.” Rothrauff wrote that the next of kin have asked that no further information be released and that their privacy be respected.
The Maersk Alabama’s owner, the Norfolk, Va.-based Maersk Line Ltd. also has said the deaths were not related to security duties or ship operations. The ship has since left the African port. Speers statement says the company has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to drugs and alcohol, and that based on past experience working with The Trident Group, it believes this is an isolated incident.
Still, the company is responding by requiring reviewing its personnel records to confirm that drug tests and background checks are current, among other things. Speer said The Trident Group will also implement a random drug testing program to increase the frequency it screens security personnel.
The Trident Group was founded by former Navy SEALs and hires former special warfare operators to perform security. On Thursday, the Navy confirmed that Kennedy and Reynolds belonged to the SEALs, an elite unit of the military’s special operations forces who are sometimes called upon to combat piracy.

In 2009, Navy SEALs aboard the USS Bainbridge shot and killed three of the pirates who were holding Capt. Richard Phillips in a lifeboat, bringing the five-day hijacking standoff involving the Maersk Alabama to an end. The “Captain Phillips” movie starring Tom Hanks as Capt. Richard Phillips was released last year.
Kennedy, whose home of record with the Navy was Baton Rouge, La., enlisted in 1995 and completed his final tour of duty in 2008, according to a summary of his record provided by the Navy. Kennedy was assigned to an East Coast-based special warfare unit, according to the record. Virginia Beach serves as the home of the Navy’s East Coast SEAL teams. He had medals for serving in campaigns in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Reynolds, whose home of record with the Navy was Fountain Valley, Calif., enlisted in 1990. He was assigned to a West Coast-based special warfare unit until he was discharged in 2000. He had won two medals for good conduct while in the Navy.
Former military personnel frequently provide security on board ships sailing through the waters off Somalia to provide security against pirate attacks. Kennedy and Reynolds boarded the ship Jan. 29, Speers said.
The Alabama transports food aid to East Africa in support of the U.S. government’s “Food for Peace” program, according to Maersk Line. Crew members also help support the Bee Hive Children’s Home in Mombasa, Kenya.
Several crew members who were aboard the ship when it was hijacked in 2009 are suing Maersk Line and Mobile, Ala.-based Waterman Steamship Corp.
Nine crew members in the lawsuit, filed in Alabama in 2012, say they suffered physical and emotional injuries after Somali pirates boarded. Some crew members were held at gunpoint with Phillips; others hid in an engine room.
Story here.