Global security comes with an US$80b price tag
The global shipping and port security measures laid down by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), seaborne trade's de facto governing body, could cost the industry as much as US$80 billion to put in place, according to a leading security official.
The IMO presented a basic framework for the 'risk assessment' measures, known as the new International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) code, in December but the potential price tag surfaced at a recent conference in Washington.
The proposed anti-terrorism measures, scheduled for July next year, will apply to the thousands of ships in the global fleet and its 120,000 crew members, 20,000 ports and 100,000 port-related facilities.
'With all the focus on US Customs Container Security Initiative [CSI], the IMO proposals have slipped under most people's radar,' Kim Pedersen, executive director of Maritime Security Council told the South China Morning Post. 'But the IMO does not plan to issue an extension beyond the July 1 deadline.'
Part of the new security code will ask shipping lines, regardless of the type of cargo they carry, to appoint a 'company security officer' who must have a background in security training.
The companies will be expected to undertake an initial 'security assessment' on every vessel in its fleet, and one every five years after the deadline.
Each vessel will also be mandated to have a 'ship security plan', and a 'security officer' to manage and put that plan into effect in an emergency.
The compliance of personnel and vessels will be certified by 'recognised security organisation' (RSO) appointed by the flag-state under which the ship flies.
'The hope is that the quality of RSO will not vary as greatly as the quality of the flag-states themselves,' said Mr Pedersen, whose organisation is a technical adviser to the US State Department.
Arthur Bowring, director of the Hong Kong Shipowners Association, said the different qualities of the flag-states might not be the code's biggest challenge.
'What concerns us more than substandard flag-states are substandard ports,' he said.
'Some ports in Africa and Latin America for instance are very open to the general public no matter how many security personnel you put on your ship.
'If they board your ship, you may be facing some pretty lengthy inspection delays before that vessel is then allowed to call in the US.'
The IMO is a London-based organisation but the ISPS code is being driven by the US and, as with the CSI, Washington is using expedited access to its lucrative consumer market as the incentive.
'Most of the ports and related facilities and the shipowners remain entirely unaware of the cost, and the consequences, of any failure to meet the new requirements,' said Mr Pedersen. 'Vessels calling at 'ports of concern', non-compliant facilities, can and will be denied access to the US.'
The ISPS code's port compliancy requirements include appointing a port security officer, undertaking a threat and vulnerability analysis and creating a port security plan.
Inevitably, billions of dollars will have to be spent on improving infrastructure, an expense many developing countries will be hard-pressed to cover.
'It is unbelievable the amount of money that will need to be spent on security. That will probably be reflected in freight rates, although it is difficult to see how that can be managed in trade sectors such as bulk,' said Mr Bowring.
'There may be a little government help for port facilities in some countries, but the shipowners will be out of luck. We are not expecting any subsidies. We will see a lot of ships going to scrap and some of the smaller owners calling it a day.'
If there is any solace for Hong Kong, a maritime community still getting to grips with the CSI, it is that modern ports may receive a filip as fewer ports gain eligibility to trade with Western markets.