In 2009, Somali pirates took Captain Phillips and his crew hostage. In a crisis that gripped headline news and spawned a Hollywood movie, Phillips’ ship, the Maersk Alabama, was hijacked in the Gulf of Aden. It was one of 20,000 merchant ships sailing through a vital artery of world trade that opened into two million square miles of water comprised of the Red Sea, Indian Ocean and Gulf of Oman.
These acts of piracy posed a serious threat to the free flow of commerce. At its peak, almost 200 vessels were attacked and 50 captured annually. The sea bandits used small skiffs to speed to ships and seized the decks using AK-47s and RPGs. At the time, insurers, owners, and the International Maritime Association prohibited weapons onboard vessels. Blasting powerful water hoses at pirates and hardening ships with barbed wire weren’t effective. US Navy and NATO warships joined the patrols but could take days to answer a distress call. As pirates reaped enormous profits, the industry needed another deterrent.
SEAL comes onboard to offer protection
SEAL Security offered shipping companies a solution. “We came up with the idea that if we put attack dogs on the vessels, it would deter the pirates,” said Grant Goldin, SEAL Security president. SEAL flags that indicated K-9 protection flew on ships as a warning. “Just as burglars are less likely to break into a house with a dog present, having barking dogs on the decks was a big deterrent,” said Goldin. “Pirates opted to leave these ships alone.”
In an effort to thwart the pirates, companies eventually allowed weapons onboard. Many shipping companies brought on military armed personnel which led SEAL to transition out of the business. However, the shift led to opportunity.
SEAL transitions to domestic security
Building on its success with K-9s, the company now had a formula that could work on land. That led to work for neighborhoods and management districts. “We had trained officers, trained dogs and a big infrastructure including a control room,” said Goldin. “If the deterrent factor works in ships, it can work in apartments and neighborhoods.” SEAL adopted a rigorous training model in which the company invested heavily in training its officers and dogs into this unfamiliar terrain.
The K-9 at work
Dozens of German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois make up SEAL’s K-9 breeds. Each dog can cost the firm between $4,000 and $6,000. Pairing K-9 officers with uniformed officers for patrols is what differentiates SEAL. Its K-9s can perform many tasks with simple commands.
Dispatch Center Difference and Rapid Response
SEAL distinguishes its services in other areas, as well. “We operate our 24-hour dispatch emergency center to assist callers in over 200 different languages by using an interpreter service to help process a SEAL officer as well as Police, Fire or EMS if needed. We take the approach of being a customer service center.” His dispatch team is trained to understand if a call requires first responders for fire, ambulatory, or security services. Regardless, SEAL will dispatch an officer and try to help with whatever problem the situation requires. Each SEAL officer’s movement is tracked with GSAT satellite technology.
Westchase District contracted with SEAL in late 2021 to supplement services provided by its HPD-staffed Westchase District Patrol. Houston Jewelry owner Rex Solomon noticed an immediate difference. “The SEAL team came in and introduced themselves to our store,” said Solomon. “Anytime we have had an incident, their response is quick. I’m very pleased.”
Westchase District uses between two and three SEAL officers per shift between 7 am and 11 pm, seven days a week. This is in addition to the HPD officers who patrol in District-branded vehicles.
Goldin says the value of the deterrent is where SEAL shines. “We are not law enforcement, we do not claim to be law enforcement,” said Goldin. “We are security.” Goldin says by providing a proactive patrol and using K9 is a highly visible deterrent to crime.