Deadline for new port security measures approaching

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

By Jonathan K. Waldron

During a visit to Charleston, S.C. last month, President Bush touted his proposed 13 percent budget increase for homeland security with U.S. ports being a primary priority. The visit came just six months before these facilities must implement several domestic and international requirements intended to add additional layers of defense and protection from potential terrorist acts.

These provisions are contained in the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 (MTSA), the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS). Domestic implementation of these requirements can be found in the U.S. Coast Guard's recently published security regulations. These regulations, which implement MTSA requirements and the international regimes contained in SOLAS and ISPS domestically were published in October 2003 and became effective in late November.

Certain vessels and port facilities were required to submit security plans to the U.S. Coast Guard by Dec. 31, 2003. The new security requirements, including implementation of vessel and facility security plans, become effective on July 1, 2004, on both the domestic and international level. This date looms large for the maritime industry. According to the American Association of Port Authorities, the regulations will cost more than $5.4 billion to implement over the next 10 years. More significantly, ports and vessels that fail to meet the July 1deadline could be shut down until they are in compliance. An estimated 10,000 vessels, 5,000 facilities and 40 outer-continental shelf facilities are directly affected by these domestic requirements alone.

Key domestic requirements contained in the Coast Guard's new security regulations include:

- Area Maritime Security: Establishes requirements for Area Plans and Area Maritime Security Committees. Area Plans, covering geographic areas, contain the details of security measures, both operational and physical, for ports.

- Vessel Security: These regulations establish security measures for certain vessels calling on U.S. ports. Generally, mobile offshore drilling units, cargo vessels, and passenger vessels subject to SOLAS, most Coast Guard-inspected vessels greater than 100 gross registered tons, most towing vessels are subject to these regulations.

- Facility Security: These regulations affect facilities that handle certain dangerous cargoes, facilities that receive vessels certified to carry more than 150 passengers, facilities that receive vessels subject to SOLAS, most facilities that receive commercial vessels greater than 100 gross registered tons, and fleeting facilities/areas for barges carrying certain bulk or dangerous cargoes.

- Outer Continental Shelf Facility Security: These regulations establish security measures for mobile offshore drilling units not subject to SOLAS and certain fixed and floating facilities located on the OCS. The rule imposes multiple responsibilities on the owner or operator of an OCS facility similar to those requirements set forth in the Vessel and Facility Security regulations.

- Automatic Identification System (AIS): The new domestic security requirements also establish technical and performance standards for an AIS. An AIS system provides to the Coast Guard real-time information on a vessel, including the name, position, course and speed of the vessel, to other vessels and onshore stations. The rulemaking imposes deadlines for the installation of AIS equipment onboard all vessels subject to SOLAS, Vessel Traffic Service users, and on many other commercial vessels.

These regulations are crucial to ensuring that ports maintain the necessary level of security appropriate for the circumstances. Ports handle 95 percent of our nation's overseas trade by volume, support the mobilization and deployment of U.S. troops and serve as points of transit for millions of cruise ship and ferry passengers. Protecting our ports is essential to ensuring the continued efficiency of this component of our national infrastructure, which underscores the importance of meeting the July 1deadline for implementation of these provisions.

Additionally, failure to meet the July 1 deadline could result in the imposition of fines and the initiation of port state control actions, including expulsion or denial of entry of vessels into U.S. ports.

Jonathan K. Waldron is the Maritime Practice Group Chair at Blank Rome LLP.

He can be reached via e-mail at Waldron@blankrome.com

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