September 18, 2014

Bin the ISPS Code!

In the West, the domestic security implications of destabilising a country thousands of miles away after waging an illegal war against it are just sinking in. Amongst the concerns is what happens if the thousands of Western fighters that have joined in the meteoric rise of the self-styled Caliphate in Iraq return home?  Of lesser magnitude but similar in effect is the iffy war that was waged on Libya, a war that has left that country in anarchy and paved the way for the massive refugee crisis that Europe now faces; a crisis that has direct implications for shipping and ports.

Over the last few years, many of the tens of thousands of refugees that have left North African shores in rickety boats for Italy have percolated into Western Europe. I wrote about this in June (see Exodus without end). The situation three months later is this- hundreds of refugees have besieged the area of Calais in France. They live in shantytowns, in the woods- actually, anywhere. Every day, some of them try to cajole, bribe or threaten truckers making the trip across to the UK into taking them along. They try to sneak into any vehicle making the crossing. Some jump of bridges onto trucks that are heading for the Eurotunnel. Some have been discovered hanging onto the underside of caravans, and a woman discovered a man scrunched up on the floor at the back of her car after driving home from France to the UK. 

Earlier this month, the Port of Calais was put on high alert after two groups of at least 250 people tried to storm ferries bound for the UK. Crew had to use fire hoses to stop one group trying to run up the ramp of a P&O operated ferry. Police in Calais were out, armed with machine guns, before the situation was brought under control. Meanwhile, also in early September in the Mediterranean, a Maersk ship picked up 352 Syrian and African refugees off a sinking vessel near Crete: the ‘exodus without end’ continues.

The crisis is not just humanitarian or one of economic migration. This is a security crisis in general and a maritime security crisis in particular. Because many of the refugees come from war torn or unstable countries that have been major terrorist havens or terrorist training grounds; many are Egyptians, Syrians, Somalis, Afghans and Pakistanis.  And because of the nature of the beast- who really knows, in this chaos, whether a person is an economic migrant, a refugee, a criminal or a terrorist?

So my question is, how many terrorists have made it across to Europe already, hidden amongst the migrants crossing the Mediterranean?

My other point is actually a proposal to throw in the bin the grandly named International Ship and Port Facility Security Code that I was told by the IMO, long ago, was a “a comprehensive set of measures to enhance the security of ships and port facilities.”  That piece of hasty legislation was ineffectual and impractical at the start, and has shown time and again that it is impotently incapable of addressing any maritime security issue, including piracy, even remotely satisfactorily, leave alone comprehensively.  

If the crew of a ferry have to fight off a hundred or so illegals with fire hoses in one of the best known and most frequented ferry ports in developed Europe, it is because security systems have failed. More so because everybody knew the refugees were there, everybody knew where they wanted to go and everybody knew there were limited ways by which they could cross the English Channel.

Amongst these failed systems is the ISPS Code. A code that was always useless. A code that has done nothing except add another layer of paperwork and suspect duties on already fatigued crews while taking away, in its implementation, their right to go ashore.

The Calais incidents underline the fact that the ISPS Code is a lost cause; it is now hopeless and beyond repair. I am afraid that if one really wants a comprehensive set of measures to enhance the security of ships and port facilities, then one has to throw this Code away and start again from scratch. 


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