14 January 2003
U.S. Welcomes New International Maritime Security Measures
(IMO changes expected to boost security at sea, U.S. Coast Guard
official says) (920)
By Andrzej Zwaniecki
Washington File Staff Writer
The United States is "very pleased and satisfied" with security
measures aimed to prevent and curb terrorist acts against shipping
adopted by a United Nations agency dealing with maritime safety and
security issues, a U.S. Coast Guard official says.
Amendments to the 1974 Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS)
adopted in December by 108 countries participating in the
International Maritime Organization (IMO) conference in London will
"go a long way to address security" at sea, Captain Tony Regalbuto,
chief of the agency's office of policy and planning for the port
security directorate, said.
While the United States enhanced security at its domestic ports and
waterways immediately after the 2001 terrorist attacks, "we needed an
international solution to really address the threat of global
terrorism," Regalbuto said in a January 9 interview with the
Washington File. "It is really too late in many circumstances to
respond to a terrorist act when the ship arrives in territorial
waters, particularly if the port itself is the target of terrorists,"
he said. "So security has to start at the point of origin for the ship
and its cargo."
Regalbuto said the new IMO regime would dramatically increase security
requirements for ships and port facilities and make information about
vessels and owners more transparent.
The most far-reaching measures in the International Ship and Port
Facility Security Code (ISPS) provide a standardized framework for
evaluating the risk of terrorist acts and enabling governments and
ship operators to calibrate preparedness levels and potential
responses to corresponding threat levels, according to the IMO
Under the ISPS code, governments will be obligated to conduct a
security assessment along criteria developed by the IMO of all ports
in their countries involved in international commercial activities.
The goal of this exercise is to identify critical assets and
infrastructures, weaknesses and actual threats, and then develop
security plans addressing port facility vulnerabilities. Ships of more
than 500 gross tons will be required to undergo a similar procedure
and their owners/operators to develop related security plans in order
to receive their government's certificate of security, which documents
the ships' compliance with the international security regulations and
code. Ports and ship owners/operators also will be obliged to
designate port, company and ship security officers. A ship security
officer will be responsible for ensuring the monitoring of restricted
areas on board the ship, deck and a perimeter around the ship, as well
as for controlling access to it and embarkation of people and
supervising cargo handling.
While the ISPS code contains both mandatory and voluntary parts,
Regalbuto said, the U.S. government would be enforcing all of the
code's requirements in U.S. ports and territorial waters as mandatory.
He said that in the United States ports receiving only domestic ships
also would be undergoing security assessments and developing security
plans if they handle cargo that might be used as weapons of mass
destruction. Regalbuto said the Coast Guard hopes to issue interim
final rules in June and final rules by November 2003.
He said the participants of the London conference have made progress
on the issue of transparency of information on ownership and control
of ships. The issue had turned out to be one of the most difficult
aspects of security at sea because of the complex legal ownership
regimes in several countries. But because member countries recognized
that ships could be used to support terrorist activities, they
accepted several measures aimed at improving transparency, including:
-- An accelerated implementation schedule for mandatory installation
of automatic identifications systems on ships, similar to transponders
used in planes, to provide their identity, position, course and speed
within 20 miles of seacoasts.
-- An optical system to allow the positive identification of a vessel
by an "IMO number" painted on its sides and carried inside the hull.
-- The establishment of a continuous synopsis record for each ship,
containing identification information and full data on its history.
In addition, a new provision of the SOLAS convention requires ships to
be equipped with a "silent" alert system that, when activated, would
alert proper authorities about a hijacking or attack without raising
alarm on board.
Calling these measures an "important first step," Regalbuto said that
the United States is expecting the IMO to require eventually the
installation of a long-range ship identification and tracking system
that would let authorities locate a vessel anywhere in the world. Such
systems, such as Inmarsat C, which is used by some ships for satellite
communications, already can be polled to determine the ship's
identification and course. IMO member countries have agreed to
continue the development of international standards and procedures for
long-range tracking systems, Regalbuto said.
While issues related to container security and seafarer identification
had been high on the IMO's agenda, Regalbuto said, the London
conference did not address them and instead decided to forward them to
the World Customs Organization and the International Labor
Organization respectively as more appropriate fora to address these
Most of the new measures are due to come into force July 1, 2004.
Recognizing that developing countries may have difficulty in meeting
requirements in such relatively short time, participants asked the
secretary general of the IMO to boost technical assistance and
consider establishing a special fund to provide support for those
countries, possibly in cooperation with multilateral financial
institutions and other international organizations.
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
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