By Alastair Thompson, Scoop.co.nz Editor in Glasgow.
Security staff at COP26 living in a “prison barge” like conditions aboard an aging giant “cruise ferry” have expressed their concerns to Scoop about a potential security and health threat to COP26 arising out of what the consider unsafe accommodation aboard a Ferry moored at Greenock an hour down the Clyde river from the venue at the Scottish Event Campus in central Glasgow where this year’s COP is being hosted by the UK Presidency.
Security staff concerns expressed to Scoop include positive covid tests on the boat, two stabbings, the discovery of knives, the finding of gun on board, and the use of cannabis in parts of the vessel.
Scoop’s sources here say there had been at least four positive covid tests on the MS Silja Europa as of 4 days ago, when the huge conference began. The Estonian registered 3000 berth super-sized cruise ferry arrived on October 21st. It is housing an unknown number security staff who are working 14 hour daily shifts (including transport time), six days a week, on the COP26 event site at the Scottish Event Campus in central Glasgow.
The COP26 event, which has the eyes of the world on it, has 10 days still to run.
Several security guards at COP26 have revealed to Scoop that there is a potential security and health threat to the Global Climate Conference being held in Glasgow. Their concerns relate to “prison barge” like accommodation on board a ferry which is providing accommodation for 100s of security contractors working at the massive global event.
Scoop has been told disturbing stories about the conditions on a ship, which is located at Greenock, 24 miles down the Clyde river from the venue. The MS Silja Europa was commissioned in 1993, making it 28 years old. It arrived at Greenock a fortnight ago on October 21st.
For this story Scoop spoke to several security guards, all of whom expressed concerns about the potential impact of the accommodation arrangements on security on the site. Their accounts have been confirmed by personnel from other security contractors working on COP26, who are also concerned about the situation on the boat. The 2nd group of security contractors are accommodated on a second boat in which the all have their own cabins.
Four independent sources have independently recounted the same story to Scoop multiple times.
They say the conditions on the ship are unsafe from a Covid and security perspective. As the ship has tiny cabins each with two or four berths. All those spoken to said all berths in their cabins were occupied. Most were in two berth cabins.
The security staff are work in rotating 12 hour shifts 6am to 6pm, and 6pm to 6am, for which they have to travel an hour a day, to and from the venue in shuttles.
Covid Precautions at COP26 Glasgow
At COP all personnel, contractors, delegates, observers, media and officials attending COP are required to take daily lateral flow covid tests. Entry to Scotland requires those who arrive from overseas to do a quarantine if they are not fully vaccinated. These have to be reported daily via an NHS portal, before gaining entry to the complex.
According to Scoop’s sources, as of two days ago four people had tested positive on the ship. Staff from the UNFCCC and UK Govt. said they were not aware of anyone yet having reported a positive test result.
And as yet there have been no public announcements made about test results from those attending the event.
The total venue capacity is 13,000. When the number of attendees reaches 10,000 alerts are issued to those attending requesting them to leave if they do not need to be here. Alerts were issued yesterday and today. There is also a mask mandate in place which is being well observed, under guidance from the security staff. Social distancing is practiced at all meetings. In the huge main plenary hall only two people from each country delegation are allowed to be present at a time.
Studies have shown that Covid Delta variant is able to break-through vaccines, and that people can become infectious even though they are vaccinated. However studies also suggest they tend to be less infectious for a shorter period of time.
The NHS provided lateral flow tests being used are now considered fairly accurate, but they are still known to produce some false positives. Tests are self administered and reported – meaning there is no guarantee that the correct result is reported – as it is an honour based system.
On October 24th, the Sunday before last, and the day before Scoop’s Reporter arrived in Scotland, the Scottish Sunday Post reported the arrival of a second cruise ship. This ship docked at Renfrew closer to the event campus.
The report quotes a Dr Rowland Kao, a professor of epidemiology at Edinburgh University:
“Cruise ships are likely places with high transmission of Covid because of enclosed spaces, especially if there is poor ventilation where people come into close contact. Given how transmissible the delta variant is, even to vaccinated individuals there will be risks. So lots of testing is going to be important.”
The ship was required for accommodation as alternatives were not available. 37,000 people have been registered for COP26 including 3300 media. Hotel accommodation prices soared in the leadup to the COP with room rates topping 1000 pounds a night.
The city is also experiencing a massive influx of climate activists who are expected to attend mass rallies for climate justice and action planned for Friday and Saturday. Friday’s Climate Strike march will have Swedish youth climate activist Greta Thunberg (aged 18) in attendance.
In addition to the covid risk from the ship based accommodation, Scoop has been informed by multiple sources that there have been two stabbing incidents on the ship, and that weapons have been found in and outside near the ship including knives and machetes. Scoop’s sources also say a gun and a at least one knife were found. Scoop’s sources further say there is significant use of marijuana in parts of the ship.
There are also some issues on the ship about catering, as catering staff have struggled to meet requests to provide hot Halal meat meals. The cost of beer on board at 8 pounds a pint was also raised by one of the security guards.
A Second Ship
On October 24th, the MS Romantika arrived and docked at Renfrew to further increase accomodation capacity. The ship has capacity for 2500 but Scoop understands that this ship is only allowing single cabin occupancy to reduce the risk of Covid outbreak. Security staff aboard this second vessel described this as being according to “the protocol”.
Staff on both ships which this article relates to have come from all over Great Britain, subcontracted from numerous smaller security companies to make up the numbers required.
Numerous Subcontractors Brought Together To Secure COP
The primary security contractor which is housing it’s staff on the ship at Greenock is Atalian Servest, a large Suffolk based services group which provides security services as part of a portfolio of mostly facility management related services. You can read about their security division’s service offering here >> Atalian Servest Security Services.
While all the security on site staff contracted by Atalian Servest wear their uniforms and badges, Scoop understands many have been contracted specifically for this assignment, mostly through subcontractors. Soures said that they were all vetted, but that that vetting did not include an interview. Scoop understands that vetting of security staff on the site is the responsibility of the host nation, in this case the UK Government.
The site also has large numbers of police on site as well as numerous less visible security staff, this was especially the case during the World Leaders Summit which concluded yesterday. From last Friday overall security control was handed to UN security staff, 160 of whom are in attendance. Scoop understands only UN security staff are allowed to be armed within the event. A second security contractor which is also providing fire has staff staying on the MS Romantika.
Professional conduct of security staff
It is important to note that Scoop’s contacts with the staff on site have been consistently professional and no concerns about the behaviour of any of the security staff have been raised as far as Scoop is aware.
However several have told Scoop they feel that the accommodation is unsafe from a covid perspective – and that they are concerned about possible spread of covid from the ship to the event. One even told Scoop he is considering quitting early as a result.
Covid rules and procedures at COP26
All attendees at the conference are required to wear masks at all times, as per Scottish law in accordance with a November 2nd 2021 advisory .
“Face coverings are mandatory in most indoor public places and indoor communal spaces, including, restaurants, cafes, bars and public houses, and in workplaces and on public transport. It also continues to be mandatory for face coverings to be worn in all indoor retail settings and storage and distribution facilities, including communal staff areas, unless there is a relevant exemption.”
This advice is being observed by most participants, most of the time. Most of the meeting rooms are large and some are huge. There are also broad concourses connecting buildings which have good air flow. There are exceptions to this when people are speaking, conducting TV live crosses and so forth.
The media center is spacious and airy, occasionally cold – albeit not this morning, which was a glorious day. Looking around the center as this is being written, most of those sitting at desks are not wearing masks.
High Security Protocols on the site
There are two security areas inside the wire on the complex. To get in you have to pass through two screening gates. The first of which you cannot get through without a negative covid test result.
Areas close to the entrance are open to all attendees. Media and delegates have access to the blue zone where most of the business of the COP is underway. In the middle of the blue zone is a concourse with camera positions, cafes and tables for attendees to rest between meetings.
Yesterday at the peak of the conference with world leaders in attendance the concourse area at the heart of COP26 was very busy with tightly packed groups waiting to get into meeting rooms and celebrity spotting. Outside the entrance to the Blue Zone photographers gathered to get pictures of leaders and celebrities on their way in and out.
At around 1pm an incident occurred outside a meeting being held by the US and EU to announce a Methane Pledge initiative. Those in attendance included Jeff Bezos, Leonardo di Caprio and Naftali Bennet. During the incident, U.S. President Joe Biden was suddenly evacuated from the room and taken up the stairs. The meeting resumed after order had been restored.
A high tech pop-up convention center
The Blue Zone of the COP event facility was constructed from scratch starting six weeks ago - and Atalian and other security contractors were onsite through this period. As this was before the ship arrived it is assumed that staff had accomodation in the city.
Numbers of Atalian Servest staff have increased significantly over time, and in addition to providing security services inside the facility, some are located on some perimeter gates.
Scoops sources said a higher level of security clearance was required by those working security inside the secure blue zone, than those in the more open areas. Many of those spoken to by Scoop had military backgrounds.
Working And Accommodation Conditions
One source provided additional details of what its like working from the MS Silja Europa.
As mentioned earlier they are in rotating 12 hour shifts, being paid around 200 pounds per day. On top of this travel to and from Greenock and the venue takes an two hours each day.
“Its more like a prison barge than a cruise ship,” said one of those on the ship, which he thinks is a ferry as it has space for trucks. “I get up each day at 3.30 am breakfast at 4am, then travel to the venue arriving for my shift at 6am.” The source said they were lucky to get six hours of sleep each night. Finishing their shifts at 6pm they arrive back at the ship at around 7.30-8 pm.
There is a bar on board which is open from 8pm to 10pm with pints costing 8 quid each. After eating dinner and preparing for sleep, then rise the next day 4am in order to be back at the venue to start their shifts at 6am.
They have one day off a week, he said, but “there is nothing to do in Greenock”.
The MS Silja Europa is a 12 story cruise-ferry – apparently with mostly tiny cabins. Sources described the smaller ones as being 2.5-3 meters wide with two berths. Larger cabins have four berths. Sources said all berths appear to be occupied in the cabins that were being used to accommodate staff, and everyone I spoke to expressed concerns about this.
In terms of vetting, the source said the procedure he had followed to be included on the security crew for COP26 involved applying for a role through a subcontractor. Identity documentation details were provided and his understanding was that the vetting was then performed by the UN.
This security guard was from inside the blue, high security zone and said that for him there had been no vetting interview. The UK was responsible for the vetting.
Pay rates for Atalian security guards
In terms of pay, if you include the travel time to and from the ship the pay rate security personnel are earning is 14 pounds an hour, excluding this time it works out at 16 pounds an hour. The current minimum wage in the UK is a little shy of 8.9 pounds an hour. In April 2022 it will rise to 9.5 pounds an hour.
Responses From UN and Atalian Servest
This afternoon Scoop posed a series of questions to Altalian Servest, the UN Security Office at COP and the and UNFCCC, these were referred to the UK Govt. to answer.
At 10pm the following response was received from the COP26 spokesperson. The full statement follows below
"We are working hard to ensure COP26 is a safe and secure event and we continue to work closely with public health authorities to ensure rigorous Covid measures are in place to help protect the summit, attendees and supporting staff."
We are working with the relevant health authorities to make sure COP26 is a safe event for all in attendance.
We have rigorous Covid mitigation measures in place, including:
Everyone who enters the blue zone must show a negative lateral flow test result before entering the site every day.
Anyone on site who tests positive, or develops symptoms, must self-isolate immediately. We have measures in place to support this, such as bespoke, emergency phone lines to call if on-site and wellbeing advisors across the site in case anyone feels unwell.
We do not provide a running commentary on reported test results or comment on individual cases.
The ships have been contracted by our contractors and there will be no HMG staff or COP26 delegates staying on board. Those staying on board will be a mixture of security personnel and production staff.”
Alastair Thompson is aNew Zealand reporter and the editor and founder of Scoop.co.nz. He is currently living in France and is attending COP for the first time. During COP he is posting a daily “Glasgow Conversation” webcast with Jeremy Rose of Carbon News (NZ) on his youtube channel.