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06 January 2004

New Regulations to Reduce Terrorist Threat to Shipping and Ports

Experts address maritime security issues at Africa Oil and Gas Forum

By Charles W. Corey
Washington File Staff Writer

Houston -- Security is the single most important issue now facing the international maritime industry because ocean-going ships have become a "vector for terrorism," warns international maritime expert Frank J. Gonynor.

Gonynor, an internationally acclaimed maritime lawyer and author of many articles on the maritime industry, told those attending the second annual Corporate Council on Africa's Oil and Gas Forum in Houston, Texas recently, that times have changed dramatically for ocean-going ships worldwide in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attack on the United States.

Gonynor was addressing the topic "Maritime Security: Africa and Beyond" at a conference workshop, along with Russell Whitmarsh, security department manager with the Port of Houston, and Jesse W. Lewis Jr., a senior international maritime security consultant with the international risk management company, Kroll. The three outlined the security concerns that threaten shipping and ports worldwide and that could have major impact on the oil and gas industry.

Gonynor reminded everyone of the ramming of the French oil tanker Limburg in the Arabian Sea on October 6, 2002 by what was believed to be a small explosive-packed boat. The attack caused major fire and explosive damage to the ship, blowing a hole into its double-sided hull and spilling 90,000 barrels of oil into the Gulf of Aden.

Security is important to the international maritime industry, Gonynor told his audience because "ocean shipping cannot be talked about in a vacuum.

"Sooner or later, a ship has to make land. It has to deliver, discharge and load cargo, so it doesn't just involve the oceans of the world but involves the ports of the world -- and the nations that operate the ports of the world." For that reason, he said, the overwhelming need for security and the ability to thwart terrorist attacks at all major ports worldwide "echoes throughout the entire economic system of the world."

New International Maritime Organization regulations that take effect in July 2004, he said, will greatly impact security all across the industry because those regulations impose several modifications on the international shipping industry.

The new regulations will require that an automatic identification system be placed on ships so that a ship's location can be plotted at any moment in the event of an onboard emergency, including a terrorist attack, he said.

Also under the new laws, Gonynor explained, all major ships will have provide a synopsis record of all movements, ports of call and cargoes and ownership of all ships will have to be detailed so full transparency in this area can be achieved.

"They (international maritime authorities) don't want to know just the names of the owning company, they want to know the background of the principals. What do they own and what do they do? Who is above them?" he said. They now require a " very deep, detailed, hierarchal picture of the true ownership of a vessel."

"Is this really possible?" Gonynor asked rhetorically. His own answer pointed to the difficulties in pulling together this broad picture of the shipping industry.

Historically, Gonynor said many ships are privately owned and their companies have been very reluctant to release much public information, for both tax and competitive reasons. "It is an entrenched culture of confidentiality that is going to have to be changed," he stressed, throughout the entire shipping industry.

Ships must also have a silent alarm or panic button installed in at least two places onboard, he said, so it can be activated in case of a terrorist attack. The new regulations do not spell out what happens after an alarm is set off, he said, asking "What happens then? Who will be responsible for the subsequent actions that will needed to be taken" to respond to the alarm?

There will also be three distinct levels of security: Level One, minimum but secure; Level Two, a heightened risk of incident; and Level Three; which defines a finite period during which an incident is expected to happen, he said, and this eliminates the old non-secure baseline on which all previous alerts were based.

"The first level is a higher degree than has ever been experienced before in the maritime world," he said. "Security is continuous and mandatory. It is not reactive but prophylactic. It must be preventative."

The United States government, he told his audience, has strongly pushed the adoption of these new maritime security laws and has also evaluated the security levels of a broad array of international ports. Those that fail to meet the new standards, he said, will be given 90 days to upgrade or face the possible consequence that cargo and ships coming from or passing through those ports would be denied entry at U.S. ports.

With the current threat of terrorism so high worldwide, Gonynor said "we are now in a situation that makes operations challenging, interesting and expensive." The new security environment and regulations have thus changed the new international shipping environment forever, he said.

Fellow panelist Russell Whitmarsh, who directs security for the Port of Houston, reinforced that point, describing the implementation of the new maritime laws as a "tough job" both for the shipping lines and for the ports their ships visit.

Ports like Houston, he said, which is a 53-mile (85 kilometer) channel that ranks as the world's sixth largest port, were originally designed (often many years ago) for the movement of cargo and to facilitate the free flow of commerce and so were designed with little or no impediments to deter that process.

Prior to September 11, Whitmarsh said, port authorities were concerned with "petty theft, accidents and safety issues."

Now besides general security, he said, port officials must also deal with credentialing systems, installing perimeter fencing and barriers in places where it never existed before, installing gate systems, access controls, and enhancing communications, surveillance and intelligence gathering. "All of this," he said, "will have a tremendous impact" on international shipping lines and the ports in which they operate.

A third workshop speaker, Jesse W. Lewis Jr., a senior consultant on maritime security with Kroll agreed that maritime security is "with us to stay" and must be accepted as factor of in the everyday life of the ports and shipping industry. The September 11 terrorist attack on the United States, he said, "destroyed any illusion that we are safe in a world in which there are people who want to attack human life and property."

For that reason, he said, "It is very important for shipping companies to forge a very close relationship with intelligence and law enforcement agencies," to protect their vessels and operations. That is "absolutely fundamental" he said, "for without them, you just cannot exist."