Help sought on security for shipping
Officials are concerned that poorer countries might face difficulties in implementing US-driven measures to increase security for seaborne trade.
Speaking at Asia's first major conference on maritime security in Singapore yesterday, Admiral Thomas Collins, head of the US coastguard, said any significant terrorist attack on a shipping target would have a 'long-lasting and negative impact both to our system of trade and economy . . . The coastguard is looking to the entire maritime community for innovative ideas in meeting these new security requirements.'
Since the September 11 attacks in the US, governments and security experts have stressed the need to enhance security for ships, cargo and ports. The sense of urgency was heightened last year after a boat loaded with explosives damaged an oil tanker off the Yemeni coast.
The centrepiece of multilateral efforts to boost safeguards came last month at a conference organised by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), a United Nations body.
Delegates agreed to update the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, giving member states until July next year to implement extra safety steps. These included mandatory use of ship-identification devices and installation of on-board security systems.
In addition Washington has announced the Container Security Initiative. Fearful that containers may be used to conceal weapons, it wants all US-bound cargoes to be screened, with US agents stationed at overseas ports.
Although widely praised, the new measures have raised concerns that efficiency may be impaired, while governments and shipping agencies have fretted about the costs.
Addressing yesterday's meeting, Singapore Transport Minister Yeo Cheow Tong said implementation would be costly and, to be successful, assistance for less developed states was essential.
'Some countries may find it difficult to adopt the maritime security measures by July 2004 when they come into force. I urge the IMO and developed-member states to offer technical assistance and expertise to help these countries.'
Chen Tze Penn, director-general of Singapore's Maritime and Port Authority, warned that there was a 'window of vulnerability' until the revised code became mandatory, and costs were a genuine worry.
'There will be huge challenges in terms of resource availability, resolve, expertise, practicality, infrastructure, organisation and legislative hurdles,' Mr Chen said. 'There will be questions concerning who will pay for the security measures, how it might change cargo and trade flows, how it will affect crews and so on.'
About 40 per cent of world seaborne trade, which totalled 5.83 billion tonnes last year, is shipped by container, according to UN figures, and the proportion is rising.
Since September 11, governments have stressed the need to enhance security for ships, cargo and ports
Maritime nations have agreed to measures including mandatory ship-identification devices and installation of on-board security systems