Recent USCG Counter-Piracy Documents

So far this year the US Coast Guard has issued two revised documents material to the struggle against maritime piracy. One is the latest version of the applicable Maritime Security Directive; the other provides updated information regarding the policies of various countries concerning self-defense weapons onboard merchant ships visiting their ports.
Maritime Security Directive 104-6 (Rev 6)
On January 30th, the Coast Guard announced the release of the sixth revision to Maritime Security (MARSEC) Directive 104-6, “Guidelines for U.S. Vessels Operating in High Risk Waters,†in a Notice of Availability in the Federal Register. According to this Notice, Revision 6 had been available since December 30, 2011 and Revision 5 was no longer valid as of that date. Interesting legal question: How can you be bound to comply with a Directive for a month before you are given legal notice that the Directive exists?
The Notice states that Revisions 6 provides “a revised and updated list of designated high risk waters and areas,†but does not indicate any other substantive change to the MARSEC Directive. The Directive applies only to US-flag vessels and is designated Sensitive Security Information (SSI). Accordingly, owners and operators of U.S.-flag vessels that travel on international voyages have to contact the USCG (the local Captain of the Port, cognizant District Commander, or the Office of Vessel Activities at USCG Headquarters) to obtain a copy. Although the Notice says that a non-SSI version of the Directive “is available,†the USCG Homeport website, as of this writing, offers only a sanitized version of Revision 5. If in fact, Revision 6 only changes the list of designated High Risk Waters, the sanitized version of Revision 6, when eventually posted, will differ only as to date and version number. The list of High Risk Waters was not included in previous non-SSI renditions, and presumably won’t be this time either. What might the changes be? Presumably coverage of more of West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea, to account for expansion of piracy outwards from Nigerian shores, as well as possibly some adjustments in the Indian Ocean reflecting changes in the operations of Somali pirates. But that is rampant speculation by someone who hasn’t seen the document.
To view the sanitized version of MARSEC Directive 104-6, open Homeport and click on Counter Piracy in the “featured Homeport Links†menu on the left. Then click on PSA 2-09 under “Port Security Advisories†in the middle of the page. This will take to a link for the PDF document (at the moment, still the older version).
Updated Port Information Matrix
Last week, my good friend Dennis Bryant reported in his preeminent Bryant’s Maritime Blog that the Coast Guard had posted an updated Port Information Matrix on Homeport. This Matrix presents information on countries’ policies regarding the carriage of weapons by merchant ships in their ports and by private security team members while transiting the country to or from ships in their ports. The Matrix summarizes countries’ responses to a US State Department demarche on the subject sent out in May 2009 and to follow-up inquiries.
The Coast Guard began reporting on the responses in October 2009 with Port Security Advisory (PSA) 8-09, “Port State Response to Request for Information Regarding Carriage and Transport of Self-Defense Weapons Aboard U.S. Commercial Vessels.†Updates have been issued by replacing the Port Information Matrix accompanying PSA 8-09. This is the first update since the August 2010 edition.
There are now 47 countries covered by the Matrix, although many are listed without information. Substantive information (defined subjectively by me to mean information providing or changing policies regarding either weapons on ships or carried on land by teams to or from ships) is presented for nine new countries (Australia, France, Gabon, Malta, Panama, Senegal, Spain, Turkey, Venezuela). New substantive information is given for nine countries that were already on the list (Brazil, Cameroon, China [for Hong Kong only], Egypt, Iraq, Peru, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Yemen). Notably, Egypt, formerly listed as “NO†for each of the two policies, is now “in flux.†The entry for Fujairah, UAE, which previously stated: “Persons or vessels entering with arms will be arrested,†now credits the port with having a slightly positive policy towards ships arriving with weapons, with the caveat that “Fujairah policy is a bit confused and post recommends prudence.†On the other hand, Abu Dhabi, UAE, formerly not listed, is now on unambiguous yes on that subject. (Neither permits arms to transit through the country to or from ships.)
Minor information changes are presented for 12 countries (Djibouti, Guinea, India, Israel, Kenya, Kuwait, Mauritius, Mexico, Nicaragua, Singapore, South Africa, Tanzania). Sudan and Oman have information that has not changed, while 15 countries (Bahrain, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Thailand) remain on the list without information.
One interesting change in the Matrix since the last version is that countries or ports are no longer marked as HPP (“Highest Priority Ports Provided by Industryâ€) and/or HRW (“High Risk Waters Defined by U.S. Coast Guardâ€). Evidently someone realized that the latter marking was inconsistent with treating the list of High Risk Waters in MARSEC Directive 104-6 as SSI.
Although the country-by-country information is summarized at a very general level, the Matrix, taken as a whole, does provide a useful starting point for planning when the carriage of armed security is being considered. It is clear that some countries will not allow it. Where countries are shown as permitting the practice, further inquiries are called for to ferret out the details. The main problem is that a number of nations in key locations have not furnished any information at all, but that’s not the Coast Guard’s fault.
To access the new Port Information Matrix, or PSA 8-09, go to Homeport, click on “Counter Piracy†under “Featured Homeport Links†menu at the top of the right side of the page. On the Counter Piracy page, scroll down to the link to PSA 8-09. Clicking on that will give you a choice of PDFs-the PSA or the Matrix.
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By Professional Mariner Staff