Less Relaxed

Ports need to raise their marine security game before pirates start to pay more attention to them and try to repeat the highjacking of a ship anchored in Omani waters, outside Salalah.

Ports need to be a lot less relaxed

Although the incidence of successful attacks is actually coming down due to a rising awareness of onboard security and the growing use of guards, Philip Roche of Norton Rose said it may be that vessels waiting at anchorage will be further targeted as the pirates get more desperate.

He explains ships are increasingly better able to defend themselves whilst at sea by following best management practice, using their manoeuvrability and the embarkation of private security. Once in the anchorage waiting to berth, “ships have lost their main advantage of movement and boarding becomes potentially much easier”.

Some ports even a good margin away from piracy hotspots will probably need to become much more security conscious – but it’s not a matter of money, it more one of attitude says Mr Roche, who adds many ports need to be “a lot less relaxed” about the subject. Unfortunately the ISPS code offers only general guidance on the subject, since the code concentrates on the central port facility itself and not so much on anchorages and roadsteads.

He says that despite this, the ISPS does require a Port Facility Security Assessment (PFSA) to be carried out, which should cover a review of threats including hijacking or seizure of the ship or of people on board – and this should include the monitoring of the port facility, including anchoring and berthing areas.

Mr Roche points out, “Under the ISPS Code, ports do have an obligation to protect waiting ships, even if they are technically outside port limits and this might include regular patrols and a radar watch of the anchorage.” But, he adds, “The quality and thoroughness of such assessments and the resources available to act on them due to the sheer size of the vulnerable anchorage differs between ports – and some are significantly less well protected than others.”

However, a significant increase in security might not take that much investment. Mr Roche explains, “You don’t necessarily need flotillas of armed patrol boats or high tech equipment – instead, ports need to put procedures in place.” For example, he says that requiring ships to maintain the same kind of levels of security as they adopt at sea would make an immediate difference. These are things such as lookouts, securing doors and access ways, and preventing unauthorised visitors approaching by use of fire hoses and passive deterrents.

Further, according to Mr Roche, the ports could make a start by simply organising anchorages better so that they are more compact and therefore easier to guard with limited resources. But the problem should not be underestimated: “In an anchorage you have lots of little boats running round, and it is not easy to know which could have nefarious intent.”

Part of it comes down to a difference in attitude: there should be more communication between the port and the incoming vessels so if there’s anything suspicious, the ship is ready to respond.

“Port control officers need to be able to forewarn the ship of an official visit, identify themselves and mark their boats accordingly,” says Mr Roche. “If there’s an ‘unexpected’ craft attempting to come alongside, even if it’s apparently from the port office, the ship should be able to feel justified in turning the fire hoses onto it and calling for help.”

A good idea, even if a few port officials stand to get drenched.

Source: Port Strategy

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