Ports and Shipping Security
© 2012 FrontLine Security (Vol 7, No 2)

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New International Guidelines
The growth of global trade is reflected in the continued expansion of the world’s shipping fleet – both in terms of numbers and vessel size. By 2010, the fleet size had risen to 1,276 million dead weight tons, representing an increase of 60% since 2000. The most significant growth was in specialized container ships, representing an astounding increase of 264% during this decade. This growth in the world container ship fleet reflects the continued expansion of the global economy and its dependence on international trade of manufactured commodities. Understandably, this remarkable growth in contain­er­ization has led shipping companies to order larger vessels to handle increased volumes and achieve economies of scale in highly competitive markets. From a security ­perspective, this implies a concentration of ­targets for terrorists, and greater potential for criminal activity.

The maritime shipping world has long suffered from security threats. From ancient times to the present day, piracy has been a continuing problem. Over the past four years, piracy has continued to rise. There were 445 attacks on ships in 2010, up 10% from 2009.

International protocols have been developed to suppress piracy by protecting ships and their crews from attacks by other vessels. This was codified in the 1958 Convention of the High Seas and, subsequently in the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). In both of these international legal conventions, acts of piracy were defined as universal crimes involving attacks on a ship by persons operating from another vessel and thus punishable under the laws of every state.

The use of hijacked planes as a weapon of terrorism in the September 11 attacks demonstrated the need for additional legal measures to prevent ships from becoming instruments of terrorist activities – a significant step up from earlier piracy concerns.

The International Maritime ­Organization, the IMO Assembly, adopted a resolution in December 2001 to revise legal instruments to address 21st century terrorist concerns. Revisions and amendments were made to the 1988 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA) and to SOLAS (the 1974 ­International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea). The IMO developed new requirements under SOLAS by adding a Chapter on special measures to enhance maritime security and the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code. These were adopted at a SOLAS Conference in December 2002 and the new ­provisions were in force by July 2004.

The ISPS Code has two parts: the first describes mandatory security requirements for national governments, ports, ships and shipping companies; and the second contains a set of guidelines for assessing risk and implementing the mandatory elements. This multi-layered, risk management approach, inherent in the ISPS Code, is useful when contracting governments are required to set appropriate security levels based on the nature and scope of the incident or perceived security threat. As well, each government has the responsibility of approving ship and port facility security plans. Shipping companies must comply with SOLAS and ISPS Code, and such compliance is verified and certified. Port authorities and marine facilities are required to develop and implement security plans, appoint a port facility security officer and ensure appropriate training is provided.

All ports handling more than 500 tonnes of international cargo were required to have an approved port facility security plan in place and operational by July 1, 2004. Similarly, ships carrying international cargo were also required to be in compliance with the ISPS Code by this same date. By 2005, more than 97% of port facilities and over 90% of ships were in compliance, with no disruption in world trade.

However, there are security gaps in the current application of the ISPS Code. The Code excludes small ships (less than 500 tonnes), passenger ferries and pleasure craft. This creates a weak link in the marine security system. For example, the terrorists who carried out the attack on Mumbai hotels in 2008 had hijacked a fishing vessel and arrived as pseudo-fishermen. This vessel did not fall under ISPS Code responsibility and was able to slip into port without adhering to these security requirements. Further, there is evidence that many shipping companies and other marine interests have out-sourced their security requirements under the ISPS Code, such that they themselves do not take the issues seriously.

Both the U.S. and Canada responded quickly to the need to secure their international maritime cargo movements. Funding was provided in each country to assist ports in devising and then implementing their port facility security plans. From the Canadian ports’ perspective, conforming to the ISPS Code by July 1, 2004 was essential as ships serving a non-compliant port would not be permitted access to a U.S. port for the following six months. Canadian ports could not allow this to happen. Indeed, prior to the compliance date, U.S. maritime security officials visited several of Canada’s major ports to assist and monitor the steps being taken to comply with the ISPS Code.

Around the world, the 18-month period between the IMO’s adoption of the ISPS Code and its compliance was a time of significant activity – devising and implementing port and ship security plans.

Many of the security programs implemented in Canada have complemented similar steps in the United States. Indeed, it was sensible to develop a cooperative and ­integrated approach, given the high degree of economic integration between the two countries and our extensive shared border.

Michael C. Ircha, is Professor Emeritus at the Transportation Group of the University of New Brunswick.
© FrontLine Security 2012