Salerno: Vessel Security Plans should address piracy threat

The following is a statement from Coast Guard Adm. Brian Salerno:


(WASHINGTON) — One of the Coast Guard’s core responsibilities is maritime safety. This is closely aligned with another core responsibility: maritime security. Ships and mariners cannot be safe if they are not also secure. Nothing illustrates this interwoven nature of safety and security better than the recent events off Somalia involving the Maersk Alabama and Liberty Sun. Each of these U.S. flag vessels was attacked, and U.S. mariners placed at risk, by pirates.

Piracy in the Horn of Africa region has received a great deal of attention by the international maritime community over the past several years. As pirates have developed the ability to operate further from shore, concerns have increased commensurately. In response, over a dozen nations have committed naval forces to the region to help stem this trend, and there have been a number of successful interdictions of pirates, including by U.S. Coast Guard forces operating under the U.S. Central Command. These forces however, cannot be everywhere at once. Dealing with the problem at sea requires a comprehensive approach, including self protection measures by ships, and an effective legal regime for prosecution.

To help reduce the vulnerability of shipping, the Coast Guard has been working with the maritime industry, other federal agencies, and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to identify specific risk reduction measures that can be taken by companies and crews. The Coast Guard is currently preparing an updated Maritime Security Directive to reflect the latest thinking and to address the evolution in pirate tactics. The Directive becomes the basis for ships to amend and update their individual Vessel Security Plan.

Vessel Security Plans were first required after the dreadful attacks of 9/11, when Congress recognized the potential for the country to be threatened through maritime means. To address this threat, it passed the Maritime Transportation Security Act, or MTSA. The MTSA is the U.S. equivalent of an international security code, developed by the International Maritime Organization, entitled the International Ship and Port Security Code, or ISPS.

MTSA requires that ships assess their vulnerabilities, and develop measures to reduce them. The Vessel Security Plan, also required under the MTSA, identifies a Ship’s Security Officer, who is responsible for carrying out the self -protection measures contained in the plan, and for training the crew on their security responsibilities. Specific measures contained in the plan typically address means to restrict access by unauthorized persons, and protection of vital areas within the ship. One potential measure under consideration is armed security teams. This will require careful deliberations with the industry, a process that will begin within the next 10 days. However, it is important to recognize that armed security is but one of many protection measures, including the application of effective non-lethal tactics by vessel operators when facing a pirate attack.

Overall, this basic risk assessment methodology used to develop and update the plan, can help reduce vulnerability to a multitude of threats, from terrorism to piracy. MTSA designates the Coast Guard as the Federal Maritime Security Coordinator. As such, the Coast Guard reviews and must approve all Vessel Security Plans. The plans are updated periodically, or may be amended through a Maritime Security Directives when a specific threat is identified. Piracy represents such a threat.

Finally, of vital importance are the ongoing diplomatic efforts through the UN and the IMO, to enhance cooperation between governments, and to create and strengthen effective legal mechanism s to hold criminals accountable for their acts of piracy. Pirates must be made to face the consequences of their actions. The Coast Guard has been an active participant in these efforts.

Coast Guard attorneys were actively involved in the negotiation of the US/Kenya Memorandum of Understanding on the transfer and prosecution of pirates. Also, in January 2009, the Coast Guard led the U.S. delegation for final negotiations in Djibouti on regional cooperation to combat piracy. This agreement called the Djibouti Code of Conduct, signed by nine regional nations so far, provides a legal framework for the interdiction and prosecution of pirates.

By Professional Mariner Staff