Queen’s Awards: Crewshield hide staff safely in plain sight

Bunkers built into innocuous-looking freight containers win company its first Queen’s Award

Listen to this article

00:00
00:00

When Mike Samways swings open the door of the shipping container a surprise awaits. Inside is another door — this time of bulletproof steel.

Stepping inside, Mr Samways leads the way past a toilet compartment and first aid station and into an air-conditioned space, flanked by upholstered bench seats.

There is a video screen, which is linked to hidden external surveillance cameras, and power sockets. Containers of water are stacked at the end of the room.

This is what Crewshield, Mr Samways’ company, calls the Citadel — a secure refuge designed for use by companies or organisations operating in the world’s remote hotspots.

This discreet bunker, which has been built into an innocuous-looking standard freight container, has won Crewshield an innovation award, its first Queen’s Award, five years after the company was set up.

The need for a product such as the Citadel is a depressing testament to the risks borne by people from construction engineers to aid workers in remote places around the world — graphically shown by the 2013 Islamist militant attack on the In Amenas gas plant in Algeria, which left 40 workers dead.

Within its armoured, fireproof and soundproof interior, Mr Samways says, a ship’s crew or a gang of miners can escape any threat of violence, be it from terrorist groups, pirates or disgruntled local hires.

“Historically the risk for companies was getting their gold or their equipment stolen . . . Now it is their people that are being targeted,” he says.

Crewshield’s customers include the UK government and the UN, though the company is understandably guarded about discussing its corporate clients and where they deploy the product.

Mr Samways says the Citadel has several advantages for workers wanting to protect themselves in a dangerous situation. First, even without mains power, the self-sufficient units would let more than 20 people survive for 24 hours in the shelter with an outdoor temperature of up to 55 degrees Celsius.

“Nothing is impregnable, but this buys time,” he says.

An open and shut case: Crewshield’s bunker as demonstrated by Mike Samways, managing director

Second, by isolating personnel in a protected way, any forces that are trying to regain control of an attacked site can be more confident of being able to do so without the risk of innocent people being caught in the crossfire.

The sight of a shipping container at a drill rig or mining camp is unlikely to attract attention. The Citadel’s shell “is just the camouflage and the way of getting it from A to B. It is discreet and you can get it to where it is required very easily,” says Mr Samways.

“Here you are hiding in open sight. It is nice and covert — the point is that people will go past without noticing it and will not know you are there.” That is apparent on a trip to Crewshield’s premises in an industrial estate in Kent, where five containers are in the yard. “So which one is the product?” asks Mr Samways. It is impossible to tell.


The container is also a clue to one of the reasons why Crewshield developed the Citadel: the high number of incidents of marine piracy, which Mr Samways was familiar with before starting the company.

He spent more than a decade in the navy, where he was a specialist in clearance diving — in essence, underwater bomb disposal — and was a boarding officer searching vessels in the run-up to the Iraq war. His naval experiences made him realise how difficult it is for armed forces trying to retake hijacked vessels if they do not know where crew and other hostages are.

The product’s benefits are just as applicable on land. The attack on the In Amenas project, whose investors included Statoil and BP, “left a lot of people very shaken up . . . that has not gone away”, says Mr Samways.

Oil and gas has become an important sector for Crewshield and, while the slide in the price of crude has slowed the development of the market, Mr Samways says mining is another target market, particularly in places such as Mali and other areas of Sub-Saharan Africa with security problems.

Once inside the Citadel, Mr Samways demonstrates how the communications equipment can be used to contact rescue forces, a company’s headquarters or perhaps even medical experts in case of the need for remote diagnoses of ill or injured staff. Retractable hammocks are built into the wall and an escape hatch provides an alternative exit in case the front door is blocked.

Mr Samways says Crewshield “gives companies options” and can be tailored to the threats they face. None has so far been used during an attack on a facility, but they have come into service in precautionary situations.

However, if there are rumours of disturbances or mounting local tensions, says Mr Samways, companies might prefer to have the option of a on-site refuge rather than having to evacuate a site for several days.

“It is another tool in the armoury — sometimes you cannot move all people out safely,” he points out. “A lot of this is about using new technology that helps to fulfil a duty of care and deliver another level of protection for staff.”

Chief executives, he says, never want to get a call in the middle of the night about an incident and then have to ask themselves later what more they could have done.

Meanwhile, for employees working on remote sites, “when they see the investment that has been made, it makes them feel that their security is being taken seriously”, he says.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't copy articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.