On course for July 1

On course for July 1

The Coast Guard recognizes there is a lot of anxiety in the maritime community about implementation of the International Ship and Port Security Code and rules under the Maritime Transportation Security Act. Three weeks remain until they take effect, and Capt. Kevin Dale, chief of port and vessel security, said that for the most part, things are working out.

"We're pretty confident that by and large, most ships and most of our U.S. facilities will be in compliance," Dale said. That includes U.S.-flag ships and ports. It also covers ships of about a dozen foreign registries that comprise 80 percent of U.S. port calls. "The word is they're all going to make it. We think that foreign ships are going to be in compliance, particularly those that visit the U.S."

If a shipper wants to avoid having its cargo delayed for security reasons, Dale suggests that they book their cargo on ISPS-compliant vessels. "We've seen that the people who own the cargo tend to get away from those flag states, or operators, or ships that have a record of detentions," he said. "That tends to drive substandard ships away from the U.S. People have voted economically, they don't want to put their cargo on ships that have a high targeting rate from us."

The Coast Guard is taking a "trust but verify" stance when it comes to foreign ships. As vessels make their first call after July 1, inspection teams will board to make sure that crews are carrying out ISPS implementation plans. The agency has brought aboard some 500 reservists to augment an equal number of regulars to carry out the exams.

Dale said an inbound vessel must report its International Ship Security Certificate (ISSC) number as part of the notice of arrival it transmits 96 hours before arrival. Most times, Coast Guard personnel will inspect the ship at the pier. "A ship that reports that it doesn't have an ISSC aboard won't be allowed to come in. When a ship reports that it has an ISSC, we'll check their certificate, and see if they're implementing the measures required under the code. Failure to implement can result in a variety of control actions: detention until they comply, we won't let them unload cargo, or we could kick them out."

It sounds harsh, but Dale said the procedure is no different from the kinds of inspections of foreign vessels that the Coast Guard has done to ensure compliance with safety and environmental rules. Ship captains who lie about their security certificates also may be subject to arrest.

Making a ship secure under ISPS or MTSA is relatively easy. Ports are a different story. "Shipboard measures tend to be operational. When you're talking about a facility, you're talking about capital improvements, such as access control that are a lot more expensive to implement," Dale said. "We built our regulations to be performance-based, rather than prescriptive. We got a lot of feedback from industry: we don't tell them how to solve the problems." Some ports have shown creativity - landlords have submitted combined plans with their tenants to divide responsibilities and defray costs. But Dale said that it takes longer to approve the plans.

Port-plan review is nearly 99 percent complete. Ports have been given "punch lists" of discrepancies to correct. "That said, we think most of our facilities will be in compliance. I expect there is only going to be a handful that we're going to have problems with." The Coast Guard will issue authorization letters to keep ports open that won't make the deadline, while they are working in good faith to complete implementation.