Breaking down new maritime security rules

Jul 22, 2004 02:00 AM

by Dr Anthony T. Bryan

Starting July 1, foreign-flagged vessels that were not in compliance with new international security rules were literally stopped dead in the water. For its part, the United States Coast Guard began to deny entry to US ports of such ships. As of July 5, available statistics indicated that 19 vessels had been turned back and 30 were detained in port.
Statistically, the US had exercised control measures against 3.25 % of foreign vessels destined for the US. The percentage is expected to increase.

Authorities in other countries have started enforcing the rules as well, and over the next few months the cost of non-compliance is expected to hit ships and ports where it really matters-in the pocketbook. But while countries aggressively enforce the codes, there are problems with compliance and limits to enforcement because of the global need to ensure the free flow of maritime commerce and not damage the delicate world economy.
The new international maritime security rules are designed to protect nations and the global shipping industry from terrorist attacks. With respect to ports, the rules shift the emphasis from preventing theft to preventing terrorism. The entire package is intended to heighten maritime security to levels that now exist for aviation security.

The International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS), which came into force July 1, requires ships and ports to implement a broad range of security measures covering communications, port and ship access control, monitoring people and cargo, and screening personnel, baggage, cargo and vehicles. It was negotiated in 2002 under the auspices of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), and has been adopted by 148 countries.
In 1992, the United States Congress also enacted the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 (MTSA) -- a series of measures designed to thwart attacks by vessels entering US ports. The MTSA has been described as the ISPS on steroids.

Under the ISPS, foreign ships headed for the US will be required to carry a security officer, display identification clearly visible from the air; have updated alarm systems and alert port authorities 96 hours before arrival. Foreign ports must file security plans with appropriate authorities of the countries in which they are located, and ship owners and operators must submit such plans to the government of the country in which the vessel is registered.
In essence, the code requires governments, merchant vessels of 500 gross tons or more, and all port facilities handling those ships to seek accreditation in their registered countries. Governments are obliged to review and verify those plans and issue security certificates to ships and approve plans for port facilities that meet the new requirements.

With respect to the US (the Caribbean’s main trading partner), the effect of the rules is clear:
-- Non-compliant vessels will not be allowed to enter the US Compliant vessels transiting from non-compliant ports will need to raise the security level at that port to avoid possible delays when arriving in the US.
-- Cargo from non-compliant ports discharged in the US will receive a higher risk score from US Customs and Border protection (CPB) increasing the chances that those containers will be inspected by CBP authorities, as they develop their database of compliant and non-compliant ports.

According to an IMO survey covering 46 countries, which account for more than 80 % of world merchant shipping by tonnage, as of July 1, 56 % of more than 21,000 ships received security certificates, and 69 % of more than 6,500 ports had their plans approved. In reality then, only about half of the world’s ports and 53 % of global shipping had complied with the ISPS code by the July 1 deadline.
According to the IMO’s most recent figures worldwide 71 % of tankers, 89 % of cruise ships and 56 % of cargo ships had compliance code certificates. The latest ISPS Code implementation figures show a continuing improvement, particularly as far as port facilities are concerned, with a high level of compliance being achieved globally.
In the US, the Coast Guard reported that it has received security plans from 99 % of 9,200 US vessels, and that it had reviewed the plans of 3,150 US port facilities subject to the code. Even so, about 150 of the 9,200 vessels that fall under US port security laws (including passenger ferries, casino boats and freight barges) could not meet the deadline. Nor could a handful (32) of the 3,150 facilities within 361 ports comply.

Compliance in the Caribbean has its bright spots and its troublesome areas. Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and the Dominican Republic led the region in terms of compliance. Because of political upheaval, Haiti did not make the cut but a security assessment to meet the certification rules is being undertaken.
Prime Minister Patrick Manning, as lead head for security reported at the Caricom Heads of Government meeting in Grenada (July 4-7) that all ports in the region had reportedly satisfied the initial requirements for ISPS certification. These include the identification of a national authority responsible for implementation, and a first level of improved security infrastructure.

Yet gaps remain. Only 14 of the 22 ports in Jamaica received their certificates of compliance, while in Trinidad and Tobago no ships are being allowed to dock at the TCL port at Claxton Bay.
The costs are considerable. In Jamaica, they are approaching $ 30 mm, with the installation of closed circuit TV monitors, underwater surveillance and mobile gamma-ray units to inspect containers. To pay for the investment, the Port Authority of Jamaica has imposed inspection fees for containers.
The menu for compliance is varied. The focus in Kingston is on transhipment, but at Montego Bay it is on cruise ships and in Port Antonio on bananas. For Trinidad and Tobago, the focus at Point Lisas and further south is on the energy-related industrial complex. Furthermore, the process is dynamic since most port facilities still have to implement their port security plans and provide continuous training for staff for years to come.

The US has vowed to police the new codes strictly by turning away ships that are not security-certified or delaying ones that have called at "contaminated ports." The US Coast Guard will move to verify international compliance with the new requirements on US territorial waters by boarding every foreign ship on its first visit to a US port. Foreign ships that lack proper security certificates would be subjected to additional scrutiny and precautions, which include searches and possible denial of entry to US ports.
The Coast Guard has added 500 inspectors to tackle the job, its team of several dozen inspectors are visiting foreign ports to inspect security infrastructure and procedures. But realistically, the Coast Guard will be stretched to multitask. One senior Coast Guard Commandant told that the biggest threat facing the unit at present is the age of its ships. Some are "old enough to collect Social Security."

Security experts admit that it is impossible for authorities in any country to check the millions of containers that travel around the globe. Even security upgrades with expensive scanners and radiation detectors are still a case of hit and miss.
The IMO and some shipping industry representatives have expressed concern that strict enforcement of the code may delay ships and disrupt maritime transportation because some vessels and many ports have not yet complied. Lengthy inspections or turning away ships that call at ports that don’t meet security standards can affect trade. Clearly no one in the US government or the shipping business expects that international trade will suddenly shut down. The companies and the countries that account for the bulk of goods shipped to the US, and who really drive the economy will always comply.

The new security rules are here to stay and the price for non-compliance is severe. But if countries make a good faith effort to comply, underperformance will be tolerated for some time. The good news is that for the first time there is a world standard for ship and port security. The ports and customs zones are the vulnerable soft spot for varieties of transnational criminals, and our collective security requires a global solution.
The bad news is that ports and shipping are still very vulnerable, and the effectiveness of the security codes cannot offer anything more than a comfort zone for governments and some shippers.

For the Caribbean countries there is also a pressing danger. If the region does not implement the stated compliance and the cost of compliance is too high that could deliver a blow to the estimated $ 20 bn in trade each year.
The trade advantage which the region now has because of proximity to the US could easily pass to the advantage of another export platform-China!

Dr Anthony T Bryan is Professor Emeritus at the University of Miami, and a senior scholar at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies inWashington, DC.
He is one of the principals of a major research project on Caribbean border and port security at the University of Miami, and the University of the West Indies-St Augustine funded by the John T. and Catherine T. MacArthur foundation.

Source: Petroleumworld
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