Maritime security system to deter attacks

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MIAMI -- A new international system of maritime security will mitigate the risk of terrorist attacks on cruise ships and ports when it goes into effect next year, cruise security experts said.

The system applies to the 109 member nations of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a United Nations agency, which approved it in December under the name International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code.

Under the ISPS Code, which takes effect July 1, 2004, ports as well as passenger and cargo ships engaged in international commerce must have a designated security officer to assess risks and deter terrorism.

The ISPS Code also mandates unprecedented security training for all members of a ship's crew, noted Jack Polderman, senior vice president of Lloyd's Register Americas.

Security plans for ships must be certified by the government under whose flag the ship is registered by the issuance of a security certificate.

The U.S. Coast Guard will issue certificates for ships under U.S. registry and inspect the certificates of foreign-flag vessels calling at U.S. ports.

If the Coast Guard believes a certificate was issued improperly, that ship may be detained or prevented from embarking U.S. passengers.

The first Coast Guard regulations governing the ISPS Code are expected to be issued this June. Inspections will begin in January on an advisory basis.

The code was discussed during a cruise industry conference here.

Michael Crye, president of the International Council of Cruise Lines, noted that the ICCL's 16 member lines, and some major U.S. seaports, had already adopted some of the key features of the ISPS Code before 9/11.

Immediately after the terrorist attacks, he said, the ICCL cruise lines began screening passengers, their luggage and the perimeters of all terminals. ICCL lines have bolstered their security further by meeting every 60 days with officials of the U.S. Coast Guard, Transportation Security Administration, Immigration Service and the Office of U.S. Naval Intelligence, he said.

Crye and other officials here said a major benefit of the new ISPS Code will be to fill gaps in the worldwide security system, particularly at overseas ports.

Even now, he said, ICCL and other industry organizations are doing "all we can to enhance the security of ports throughout the world."

Another benefit expected to result from the new port security standards is the raising of the level of passenger- and luggage-inspection equipment in U.S. seaports to the levels already attained at airports, according to security officials here.

According to Capt. James Watson, commanding officer of the Coast Guard's Marine Safety Office in Miami, ships flying the flags of states known to have lax security standards will not be admitted to U.S. ports, similar to the way airlines with lax safety practices are excluded from landing at U.S. airports.

Another unfinished piece of business in maritime security is the creation of an international identification card for seafarers. The IMO is working with the International Labor Organization to devise the cards.

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