Port Security
Marine Terminals
© 2017 FrontLine Security (Vol 12, No 1)

Is the present security regime sufficiently robust and resilient when it comes to marine terminals? Ranging in size from small passenger docks to large, sophisticated multimillion-dollar cargo loading facilities, they are often situated near urban areas or sensitive marine environments, and may involve a variety of dangerous goods.

Port of Vancouver

This article explores the issues surrounding governance for responders when dealing with a safety or security situation at a port terminal, and will address the policy context necessary for the maritime industry and government agencies.

Terminal operations are influenced by international conventions and commercial codes of practice, and each marine terminal has its own distinct set of risks and environmental impacts. In one extreme example, in 1945 when the Bedford Magazine Dock (just outside of Halifax) was laden with stockpiles of ordnance for the Royal Canadian Navy, a fire spread to the stacked munitions – with expected results. On the Pacific coast, CFB Comox uses a jet fuel line that is serviced by barge; it is immediately adjacent to a very busy fishing facility and rapidly growing urban area.

In the regulatory cross hairs
The one thing that all marine terminals have in common is the fact that many different regulatory regimes converge at the water’s edge. In fact, ports are subject to regulation by up to four levels of government. Terminal operations involve navigating a complex web of overlapping and competing jurisdictions that result as marine and land-based regulatory and governance regimes come together. In fact, both public (navigation rights) and private rights (private property rights) converge at the terminal.

In Washington, Vancouver Energy’s proposed facility (highlighted in blue) consists of a covered transload area on the railroad tracks at Terminal 5, six storage tanks to the east, and a loading area at two of the port’s cargo berths. Pipelines will move crude oil from the transload area to the tanks and on to the berths, where the oil will be loaded into U.S.-built, U.S.-flagged, and U.S.-staffed marine vessels for shipment to refineries in Alaska, California and Washington.

Marine activities are governed by a mostly uniform international regime as set out in the conventions put in place by the International Maritime Organization in the International Labour Organization. Also, the law of the flag state also interacts with domestic and local regulatory requirements including customs and immigration requirements. A deep-sea vessel at berth remains a sovereign territory of the flag state. Canada can only exercise its powers over a foreign flag vessel subject to the powers granted to a coastal state under the Law of the Sea Convention which deals with marine safety and prevention of pollution.

In the case of a deep-sea cargo vessel, the law of the flag state governs the ship subject to how the Coastal State and Port State control requirements interact in conjunction with provincial law. Canada exercises Port State control over foreign flagged vessels through the Tokyo and Paris Memorandum on Port State control, which essentially gives Canada the delegated authority to inspect a foreign flag vessel. Canada, acting through Transport Canada Marine Safety, serves as an agent of the flag state on marine safety requirements, and has the power to detain these foreign vessels should a deficiency be found. Arguably, provincial and municipal laws don’t apply to the foreign flagged vessel while it is alongside a berth. Confusion or problems can arise if there is not a clear understanding of the legal framework or context in which emergency responders must operate. In a rapidly changing marine response incident, the situation is often complex, time sensitive and sometimes murky.

The marine transport of dangerous goods is regulated by the International Maritime Organization’s International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code, which was adopted under regulations made under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001. The law is based on an honour system that requires shippers to provide detailed information about their cargo. Information is shared electronically among the commercial shipping interests, but first responders to do not always have access to the data and must rely on other parties. Herein lies the urgent need for cooperation between the parties since the timely and accurate input of such information is critical for first responders.

The seaward response tends to bring federal officials, but not always. For example, in the Port of Vancouver, Vancouver Fire Rescue may provide fire suppression to a ship at the terminal using one of its fire boats. In other situation across the country, a Canadian Coast Guard vessel, Royal Canadian Navy tug or commercial tugboat may respond with fire monitors.

Port of Halifax

Often, the local municipality provides first responders to deal with a ship-borne incident at a terminal’s landward side, especially in smaller and more remote communities where the responders may also be local volunteers. Private contractors, environmental response groups, and Port Authority officials can also become involved. Response effectiveness is understandably compromised if clear lines of communication and pre-existing emergency protocols are not put in place.

Response lessons
A look into past incidents in Halifax and Vancouver offers insight for effective future response options. In 2014, the Port of Halifax was the site of a nuclear cargo discharge at the Fairview Cove container terminal. In that case, a nuclear cargo encased in a heavy shipping container was dropped on the container ship and had to be assessed and monitored in an urban setting.

The municipality responded quickly. Luckily, Halifax Fire Rescue had specialized training and the leadership to respond promptly to this incident until expertise from outside the region arrived. It took two days for nuclear experts to give the ‘all clear’ assessment. A situation in Halifax has the added benefit of having access to the marine response capability at CFB Halifax. In recent years, this has been led by the Royal Canadian Navy’s MARLANT Commander, Rear-Admiral John Newton.   

The 2014 Halifax incident shows the potential for adverse impact. The response offered by all involved demonstrates the importance of recognizing and analysing the risk, as well as the critical role that well-trained, well-led initial first responders play in our ports. Canada’s port authorities worked hard to develop this specialized capability, which relies both on technical expertise and on professional relationships developed over an extended period.

Canton Marine Terminal, Baltimore

On the other coast, a dangerous incident occurred at the Port of Vancouver in March 2015. A 20-foot container from China and destined for Eastern Canada by ship, rail, and truck, caught fire while at the Centerm Terminal. The cargo was a hazardous organic compound used as an industrial disinfectant called trichloro isocyanuric acid. The fire, which burned for more than 24 hours, created a toxic smoke plume over East Vancouver – highlighting the risks of being so close to a large urban area and commercial core, and hence the importance of being prepared.

This incident showed that while the terminal may be under federal jurisdiction, timely response is almost always going to be local. It also proves that effective response from local municipalities may require specialized equipment, knowledge, and training. The question: Is proper funding being set aside for such requirements?

Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services, working in conjunction with other first responders, did a tremendous job in extinguishing the fire. Apparently, the ongoing training in the port of Vancouver for the marine response for hazardous and noxious substances (HNS) paid off in this case.

An effective response cannot be left to chance or undertaken on an ad hoc basis due to insufficient resources and funding. There needs to be a systematic overview of risks and governance regimes of all parties so that critical communication can be received and acted on seamlessly.

Destined for Eastern Canada by ship, rail and truck, the hazardous organic compound inside a 20-ft container caught fire while still at the Centerm Terminal. The fire burned for more that 24 hours.

There is often no straightforward answer to work through various types of Marine terminal issues, but building strong relationships between the various stakeholders is key to solving any of these problems. Generalized conclusions should be avoided, as each issue presents individual challenges, but having a global understanding of the complexity and interface will allow marine professionals to make better decisions. A risk-based safety management approach will ensure that best practices are incorporated into decision-making and operational procedures, and needs to be integrated at all levels of government.

Problems arise when the many competing agencies have not established protocols in advance for working together. Advance identification of vulnerabilities, scenario exercises and increasing response capacity is key to continuous improvement. The potential marine risks and downstream effects to human health, the marine environment, and economic impacts are enormous. Getting in front of the issue involves stakeholder discussions and identifying the key issues. The Vancouver port stakeholder community has done excellent work in this area. It paid off in the Centerm incident.

Marine terminal operators and local governments can sometimes be overlooked in the discussion on marine policy issues and the adequacy of existing marine response efforts. When there is a marine incident at a terminal, regime gaps and potential for conflict often emerge in real time. Proactively addressing this well before any incident means having the necessary resources to develop long-term and sustainable relationships with all stakeholders. As we move into the 21st century, we must prioritize the identification of security issues at the terminal interface to ensure a robust and resilient maritime economy.

Kiley Sampson is the managing partner of Halhorne Marine and a principal of Maritime Strategies partners.

Joe Spears is the Managing Director of the Horseshoe Bay Marine Group and is also a principal of Maritime Strategy Partners.

Darryl Anderson is a strategy, logistics, trade development, and transportation consultant.