Security rules trap crews on ships

By Alex Binkley

Heightened security rules in Great Lakes ports means crews on Canadian ships feel like they’re “being treated as prisoners in their own country,” says Capt. Tom Anderson, Company Security Officer for Algoma Central Corp. Since the Port State control security rules were introduced in 2004 by Canada and the United States, “there’s has been a continuous trend to restrict or curtail shore leave or even crew exchanges,” Anderson told The Port Security Conference of Canada.

He urged Canadian and American government officials to work with shipowners so that vessels registered in the two countries, which only trade on the Great Lakes and East Coast, are treated differently from foreign vessels. That would make life easier for Canadian and American sailors, he said. “The rules among U.S. Great Lakes ports are inconsistent and don’t seem appropriate to the risk.” They mean a lot more paperwork and long waits at gates for sailors wanting to return to their ship or even to get out of the port. In some cases it becomes virtually impossible for crews to get any shore leave, he told the conference organized by the MacDonnell Group. They have to cope with security guards and a requirement to have a pass for each port. As well, there are new rules on dock safety, customs and immigrations and even the cost of port security that are used as excuses for keeping sailors on their vessels.

Shipping companies find it difficult enough recruiting young people to work in the industry without having this additional burden, he said. Ship crews are an important link in maritime security and the two countries should develop a seafarer identification card that would be accepted at all ports in Canada and the U.S. That kind of reciprocity for Canadian and American sailors should be enacted as Ottawa works to integrate its maritime security regulations with Washington’s rules, he continued.

The new security rules are equally frustrating for shipping companies, he added. They’re expected to pay for security guards while they’re in a port even if there is no reason to have them. Governments insist on extra security duties for ship crews and training drills and exercises, which always seem to be held on land rather than the ships where the sailors work, he noted. That results in extra costs for the shipowners, and interferes with the companies’ efforts to move cargo quickly and efficiently, he pointed out. He suggested that the officials developing security regulations should sail on the vessels, so they would better understand the implications and impacts of the rules they are proposing.

Capt Andrew Tucci, Chief of the Office of Port and Facility Compliance with the U.S. Coast Guard, said Canada and the United States are working through the Beyond the Border initiative and the Regulatory Cooperation Council to facilitate cross border trade “while at the time maintaining security and safety standards.”

A priority item is ensuring a port can resume normal operations as soon as possible after a major event like the Sept 2001 attacks, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, an earthquake or tsunami. “Most international trade is carried by ship so protecting ports and enabling them to recover from a disaster is a sector that Canada and the U.S. are pretty good at. We are focusing at getting better at it.” Both countries acknowledge the need to be able to move quickly from emergency response to restoration of economic activity, he said. To do that, officials must generate immediate, accurate information and “move resources across the border without restriction if needed.”

Vancouver and Seattle hosted a recovery exercise last October in Everett, Wa. to determine just what issues could arise in a recovery operation. The result was 30 recommendations for the Canadian and American governments for an enhanced maritime commerce recovery plan. Details are available on the web site He noted that the IMO also has established a facilitation committee to develop guidance for recovery of maritime trade. Transport Canada and the U.S. Coast Guard are leading the committee whose membership includes the European Commission and international shipping and shipper groups. Tucci said the two countries hope to organize a similar event for the Great Lakes region this year and for the East Coast in 2014. At the same time, the two countries have tasked their marine security working group with trying to harmonize the marine transportation security regulations for the two countries and develop a coordinated approach for the Great Lakes region. They also plan to step up joint efforts to improve cyber security. The results of this cooperation will be “reduced risk at the border, improved trade and an ability of both countries to focus on the greatest risks,” he explained. Next steps will include expanding this security co-operation to other modes of transportation, as well as the energy sector. He said the devastation in the New York City area from Hurricane Sandy imparted some lessons in economic recovery to government planners and port operators. It is key is to be prepared and hold meetings with all the prominent players in the port before there is any trouble. “Don’t meet for the first time at the command post.” He said in the aftermath of the storm, strong partnerships and a sense of community were identified as key factors in the port’s recovery from the devastation.

John Platts, a former Transport Canada official who works as a maritime security specialist with the IMO, said the organization has a track record of providing security advisories dating back to 1984 intended for ports and passenger ships. In 2011, the IMO produced a consolidated, up to date guidance document that consolidated thousands of bulletins and reports issued by it during the previous three decades, he said. While it was adopted by the organization’s Maritime Security Committee, many countries have implemented only part of it because of increased costs or the lack of enabling laws.

Canada has been busy consulting with domestic stakeholders and other parties on what it needs to do to be fully compliant with the IMO standards. “The process includes risk assessments and management, updating port security plans and good practices and holding regular drills and exercises,” he noted.

Canada’s robust port security strategy is seen as a model that other countries could adopt, he said. “Canada has a marine security story to tell.” Canada is a proactive Port State Control country and the Canadian Coast Guard has also been assisting in an international project to develop an electronic navigation strategy, he added.