Counting down the ISPS deadline

May 29, 2004
Author: P&S

Mounting concern exists throughput the world over the approaching ISPS Code (International Ship & Port Security) deadline. A number of specialists, including some of the classification societies, have gone on record expressing their concern that many ships and ports are not likely to meet the 1 July 2004 cut-off.

Writing in the current issue of the risk management newsletter Signals, the North of England P&I Club says the task of securing port facilities is a much larger, more complex operation and one in which many ports will find difficult to achieve.

The club raises the issue of stowaways and says that ships found with stowaways on board after 1 July are likely to be found as being not in compliance with the ISPS Code, with all its consequences. This could lead to ports imposing stronger security-control measures against the vessel that would lead to additional cost and delay for the ship’s owner.

Another issue raising concern is the expected cost of ISPS and who will pay. Already a number of port operators have indicated they will recoup security related costs by means of a surcharge – P&O Ports of Australia being the latest with an announcement this week that it has been in discussion with customers about recovering these added costs by means of a surcharge.

Last year the National Ports Authority of SA (NPA) said it was investing more than R200 million in raising the level of security at the country’s commercial ports under NPA control. It seems inevitable that this and further ongoing costs will be recovered by means of an added fee somewhere in the system.

The NPA is well on the way towards complying with the ISPS Code, an NPA spokesman told Ports & Ships yesterday. Donald Kau said the NPA had attained a security threat level 1 but was not able to say whether the ports would be compliant in all respects by the July deadline.

He pointed out that the various port terminals operators were required to see to their own port security. He was unable to identify the respective NPA security officers in the ports.

Kau agreed that Durban’s Maydon Wharf constituted one of the greatest challenges because of the numerous access points in and out of the area, in addition to the large number of private operators working along the wharf.

The ISPS Code was implemented by the world’s seatrading nations including South Africa following the 9/11 atrocity in New York. Without compliance to the code all seaborne trade between countries will become difficult if not impossible, in particular to the United States.

Much of the ISPS code makes very good sense and should have been in force years ago. On the other hand, some sections of the code are less practical.

All ships are now required to appoint a Ships Security Officer (SSO), although his role on board should not be misinterpreted. He/she is no armed guard capable of beating off terrorists, but rather an ordinary ship’s officer trained in the management of the ISPS code.

Similarly shipping companies must have appointed a Company Security Officer (CSO) with overall responsibility for the training and upkeep of ISPS security in the company fleet. On land the ports are required to appoint security officers to oversee and manage the implementation of the ISPS Code in the ports. Where there are private terminals interfacing with the ships the process is duplicated.

There’s a story doing the rounds that when the New York port authority was asked recently what it would do in a security emergency, the response was “phone 911”. On board a ship the SSO doesn’t have the luxury of a close-to-hand ‘911’ and will have to rely on his manual and training plus the reaction of his crew – an unenviable task.

However this little story helps eliminate any thought that being ISPS compliant, either in a port or on a ship, is a be-all and end-all to happy sea trading. The ISPS Code won’t end the threat of piracy at sea, or stowaways in the ports, although it might help avoid some of these problems.

There’s a growing belief that the new code has been created in some haste more to appease the politicians and policy makers who can claim they have ‘done something about it’ rather than being concerned with the plight of seafarers caught up in strategic affairs not of their making.

Perhaps it would be of more consequence if issues such as: Where are the additional customs and immigration officers, the additional scanners and other port equipment capable of detecting smuggled goods, weapons and people? Where are the additional trained personnel in the ports capable of handling such equipment? Where are the extra funds for our water police and where is our coastguard, suitably equipped with vessels able to deal with acts of terror or ships in distress?

Where is the enthusiasm to deal with the biggest scourge of modern day seafaring - the pirates that operate with impunity on strategic sea-lanes around the world including parts of Africa?

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