The Diplomatic Conference on the Revision of the SUA Treaties opened October 10 to begin its consideration of amendments to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation, 1988 and its related Protocol, which provide the legal basis for action to be taken against persons committing unlawful acts against ships (and against fixed platforms located on the continental shelf).
Speaking at the opening of the Conference, being held at the London Headquarters of the International Maritime Organization
(IMO), IMO Secretary-General Mr. Efthimios E. Mitropoulos said
the success of the Conference would ensure that the Protocols to the SUA treaties would become “yet another milestone in the field of treaty-making, this time aimed at further unifying international law with the purpose of preventing the maritime infrastructure from
becoming a victim and eventually defeating the scourge of terrorism worldwide.”
Mitropoulos said that since the events of 11 September 2001, followed by other terrorist attacks around the world, the matter of maritime security had introduced a new, and very important, element in IMO’s responsibilities.
“The maritime domain has been described as being of unparalleled importance but, at the same time, it is clear that the global maritime transportation system provides a vulnerable and valuable target for terrorists. It is this domain and this system that we should join forces to protect through the IMO regulatory regime, including the treaties this Conference is convened to adopt. The need to ensure the uninterrupted flow of international seaborne trade is absolutely vital, which is why I have been taking every opportunity to raise awareness of the importance and significance of shipping to world trade and the economic chaos that would be caused if the global supply chain were to be interrupted by terrorist attacks against ships, ports, offshore terminals or other marine facilities,” he said.
Mitropoulos expressed his confidence that the Conference would succeed, not only in achieving its main objective in the regulatory field but also, through the interest it has generated, in highlighting and promoting the need for the development of a global security consciousness, along with the much sought after development of a global safety culture and environmental conscience in all maritime operations, that the Organization has been cultivating for some considerable time.
The SUA treaties complement the practical maritime security measures adopted by IMO - including SOLAS  chapter XI-2 (Special measures to enhance maritime security) and the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code, which entered into force in July 2004 - in that they regulate the legal situation in the unfortunate event that a terrorist attack should occur.
The principal purpose of the SUA treaties is to ensure that anyone committing unlawful acts against the safety of navigation will not be given shelter in any country but will either be prosecuted or extradited to a State where they will stand trial. Among the unlawful acts covered by the SUA Convention are the seizure of ships by force; acts of violence against persons on board ships; and the placing of devices on board a ship which are likely to destroy or damage it. The draft protocols broaden the list of offences covered by the treaties and introduce novel provisions to facilitate the boarding of ships where those offences may already be in the process of being committed, with the aim of preventing or neutralizing their potentially damaging consequences.