TT Talk - Clarifying the operation of the ISPS Code

The concern raised with us, in relation to the practical workings of the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code, was that, if there is a breach of security at a port or terminal, the facility becomes 'non-compliant' and any ship that calls at that terminal or port could also become 'contaminated' by this non-compliance. On this basis, wherever that ship calls subsequently could also then become 'contaminated', unable to accept other ships without them also becoming 'contaminated' or 'non-compliant'. And so on.

We believe that the interpretation of the ISPS Code requires common sense. Take the example of a bomb scare in a city department store. After a bomb has been found, defused and removed, do the owners of the department store raze it to the ground and build a new in its place? Of course not. Similarly, if there is a bomb hoax, does the shop shut its doors forever? No - it searches the store and declares an all clear, which is documented. The key here is the fact that procedures are followed and that they are documented.

It is similar for port facilities, although there is more as required by the ISPS Code. Part B.16.5 states that if there is a security incident, it must be recorded: ‘... the PFSP [Port Facility Security Plan] should make provision for the retention of records of security incidents and threats...’ However, the answer probably lies in Part B.16.37: ‘... At security level 3, the port facility should comply with the instructions issued by those responding to the security incident or threat thereof. The PFSP should detail the security measures which could be taken by the port facility in close co-operation with those responding and the ships at the port facility...’

Therefore, if there is a security incident in a port facility, that port facility will go to level 3 automatically and then the provisions of Part B.16.37 apply. Assuming that the PFSP contains provisions in accordance with this, and complies with those provisions, the port or terminal has discharged its responsibilities. Since a Recognised Security Organisation will have approved and tested the implementation of the plan, there should be little doubt that the requirements of the Code have been followed.

Once the responders to the security incident have given the all clear and this has been documented by the port facility (ISPS Part B.16.5) then the port facility is open for business. However, at no time, despite the occurrence of a security incident, is the port facility in breach of the ISPS Code - it has done everything required of it.

Furthermore, if at any time a Ship Security Officer feels that the ship could be 'contaminated', it is suggested that a standard stowaway search conducted properly and fully documented in line with the Ship Security Plan (SSP) may suffice - but all of this should be in the SSP anyhow.

Therefore, while this cannot be taken as a legal opinion, the pragmatic answer is that this type of ‘contamination’ should not occur in the anticipated operation of the ISPS Code.

We are grateful to Dr Risto Talas, Research Fellow at Hull University Logistics Institute, for assistance in compiling this article.


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