Shipping experts highlight risk of terrorism




By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent, in London

Financial Times, 12 November 2003

The terrorist threat to shipping and ports remains extremely high, in part because port authorities and governments are not implementing new security guidelines quickly enough, maritime experts and officials were told on Wednesday.

Tough regulations aimed at improving maritime security were agreed by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in December 2002. The International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) code was agreed as a way of improving ship and port security measures and ensuring the two complement each other.

However, of the IMO’s 163 member nations only a handful have achieved the new standards and concerns are also growing that ships using flags of convenience may evade the guidelines. Shipping companies are accused of being reluctant to take the lead in instigating the required changes, while governments are failing to allot adequate resources to upgrade port security.

“In the past 12 months there’s been a paralysis in the industry,” said Chris Austen, managing director of Maritime and Underwater Security Consultants (MUSC), at a conference on maritime security in London on Wednesday.

“In a lot of countries the paralysis has been caused by people waiting for governments to tell them what to do,” he said, adding that by the time the deadline for implementing the ISPS code is reached in July 2004 “there will be a bit of a fudge”.

The slow pace of implementation has become evident as concern has soared among intelligence agencies that the al-Qaeda terrorist network and some of its affiliates have realised how vulnerable shipping is, and how devastating an attack on a port or a busy shipping lane could be.

A recent report by the Aegis private security company said there was credible evidence that at least one terrorist group was undergoing training in steering large ships, and may have targeted the busy Malacca Strait between Indonesia and Malaysia for a possible attack.

Other possible targets, where sinking one or more ships could block main cargo routes and cripple world trade, are the Red Sea approach to the Suez canal or the Strait of Gibraltar, Aegis says.

Criticism of the slow pace of implementation of the new rules by governments has been matched by concerns that so-called “flag states”, which register ships but often provide little or no oversight of their activities, will prove a big flaw in the ISPS guidelines.

The IMO has put most of the responsibility on governments rather than shipping companies and stresses that the code will fail to reduce the vulnerability of shipping if states fail to act. “At the moment the code is [only] a fairly good idea. But until the governments put it into legislation, it’s going nowhere,” said Chris Trelawny, IMO senior technical officer.



© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.