International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code

Friday, March 05, 2004

By Chris Doane and Joe DiRenzo III

Closely associated with the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 (MTSA) is the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code enacted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Implementation of the ISPS code will provide a comprehensive framework for global maritime security while facilitating the flow of commerce through the maritime transportation system.

The 108 countries that comprise the IMO, including the U.S., adopted the ISPS code in December of 2002.

The code, along with amendments to the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention, sets forth several functional requirements to achieve maritime security. The Code: establishes a methodology for gathering, assessing and sharing information amongst nations in regards to security threats, requires communication protocols for ships and port facilities, mandates ship and facility security plans based upon security assessments to prevent unauthorized access, and requires training, drills and exercises to ensure familiarity with the security plans and procedures. All IMO member nations must be in compliance with the Code by July 1, 2004.

By July 1, 2004, nations must certify to the IMO that they have completed security assessments for each of their ports and port facilities that accept vessels on international voyages and have developed, approved and implemented a security plan to adequately address security vulnerabilities identified in the assessments. In addition, passenger ships and cargo vessels of 500 gross tons or more that engage in international voyage must have an International Ship Security Certificate from their flag state certifying that the ship has an approved and properly implemented security plan. The IMO and member nations will conduct independent audits of these certification programs to ensure quality.

With this process of security certifications in place, nations will be able to allow certified vessels from certified ports and facilities into their ports more rapidly with only cursory scrutiny while remaining confident that proper security levels are maintained.

Vessels arriving without proper certification, or from ports or facilities lacking certification will receive more extensive inspection and may even be denied entry. Obviously there are huge financial incentives for nations as well as facility and vessel owners and operators to comply with these international regulations. Full implementation of the MTSA will bring the U.S. into compliance with the ISPS Code. The Coast Guard has been giving a priority to approving the security plans for its ships that engage in international trade in order to issue them International Ship Security Certificates prior to July 1. In partnership with other port security stakeholders, the Coast Guard is also focused on completing and approving Area Maritime Security Plans that will cover every U.S. port so that the U.S. can certify that its ports comply with the ISPS Code.

In the end, international compliance with the ISPS Code will provide multiple layers of security allowing for the earliest possible detection and mitigation of security threats. Just as important, it creates mechanisms and conduits for rapidly sharing maritime security threat information. For the U.S., implementation of the ISPS Code will allow us to achieve one of our most desired security goals - pushing our borders out, detecting threats before they reach our shores.

About the Authors: Chris Doane is the Chief of Port Security and Response at Coast Guard Atlantic Area. Joe DiRenzo is a Maritime Homeland Security Technical Director for Anteon's Center for Security Strategies and Operations. Both are retired Coast Guard officers.

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