A Malta-based, industry-leading and highly profitable maritime security company – Gulf of Aden Group Transits (GoAGT) – abruptly closed its doors this week and went into administration, leaving hundreds of employees across the globe in the lurch, some literally at sea.
The Seychelles-registered GoAGT and its Maltese company, Maritime Guard Group (MGG) was used by the likes of Shell to provide armed security staff to protect ships and tankers from pirates off the coasts of Somalia.
But despite raking in approximately $1 million every month, hundreds of its security employees have been left scattered at sea, after the tier one, maritime security company ceased trading, while allegedly owing millions in unpaid salaries.
Other security officers have been stranded in Djibouti, Mauritius, South Africa and the UAE, all several months of salaries in arrears, with no way of getting back to their homes without paying thousands in air fares.
While its sole beneficial owner, CEO Nicholas Davis, has told the UK Independent that he was trying to sort out a financial black hole after a creditor called in a debt, some of GoAGT’s 30 Malta-based staff have been busy finding vessels – unpaid – willing to take the stranded guards to other ports for free.
While the sudden implosion of GoAGT – whose ISO28007 accreditation requires a clean bill of financial health – has rocked the shipping world, it comes as no surprise to many people who have worked there.
Former employees who spoke on condition of anonymity recall haphazard management, whimsical promotions and knee-jerk changes in company policies. “Promotions, both at sea and on land were often not easily explained and implied menace mixed with blind confusion seemed to be company management policy,” one employee said.
Ongoing staff cuts and un-replenished resignations at the Malta headquarters added more responsibilities on the operational support staff, longer and more punishing shift patterns, heavier workload and stress from senior management.
GoAGT was the brainchild of retired RAF helicopter pilot Davis. He founded Anti Piracy Maritime Security Solutions (APMSS) in 2008, being a proponent of sending unarmed teams of ‘security advisors’ on ships. That was until November 2008, when one of Davis' teams were protecting the MV Biscaglia using a sonic crowd control device.
It was successfully boarded by a group of Somali pirates and the unarmed team, deciding discretion to be the better part of valour, jumped overboard to avoid capture, much to the amusement of the industry.
Unsurprisingly, after this incident Davis became a vocal advocate for armed guards on merchant vessels, heralding a golden age for MARSEC.
Davis then appointed Cmdr. Gerry Northwood– a former commander of the UK counter-piracy task group – as chief officer operations. Northwood’s expertise was expected to deliver professionalism and gravitas to GoAGT, but instead Davis alone called the financial shots: striking deals, buying equipment, presenting them as a fait accompli to his COO, leaving him no option but to pay out.
Ex-employees report late pay was the rule, not the exception, the only variable being by how many weeks.
In comments to MaltaToday, Northwood said he had resigned over two weeks ago.
“GoAGT is in administration. The company was operationally sound, profitable and had one of the best reputations in the industry. CEO Nick Davis was the sole shareholder… and had total authority over finance. He worked up $7 million in debt to suppliers, deployed staff, a debenture holder and ultimately to HQ employees on the back of other failed business ventures. As COO I resigned over two weeks ago when I lost confidence in his ability to raise a rescue package and found out the full extent of the debt.”
Davis spent the last two years setting up 888 aero, which for a flat fee of more than £20,000 advises on buying and selling aircraft. He also said he had plans to create ‘collection pods’ on the high streets for internet shoppers in the UK.
Davis remains adamant about the legitimacy of his schemes: he is often seen defending his actions and reputation with contributors on the CloseProtectionWorld.com internet forums.
Not two weeks before GoAGT folded, he vehemently denied bankruptcy: “GoAGT is indeed restructuring over this weekend with new investment and will focus on trying to ensure business continuity… There are pay arrears and these are the ultimate first priority, however I will not address on an open forum individual cases nor remedies.
"I will state again, I’m not going to keep coming on the forum to justify or explain as currently I’m trying to turn a mess into not such a mess, for the benefit of those that have delivered an outstanding service both on board and ashore.”
Source: Malta Today