Nearly seven years have passed since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. They have been years of recovering from the devastation, years of restructuring both local and national security processes, and years of establishing additional levels of protection for our nation and our citizens.
In terms of securing our ports and safeguarding the avenues of maritime transportation, these seven years have yielded vast improvements, both domestically and internationally. Yet, vigilance never rests, and prudence demands constant scrutiny both of the positive strides made and of the steps yet to be taken to protect the integrity of US maritime security.
In the aftermath of September 11, the US government passed the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 (MTSA) with the focused goal of preventing a maritime transportation security incident, defined as any event or occurrence that results in significant loss of life, environmental damage, disruption of the transportation system, or economic disruptions to any particular area.
The MTSA charged the US Coast Guard (USCG) with the pr imary implementation of the law’s regulations, which include requirements that ports and vessels perform vulnerability assessments and establish security plans encompassing variables such as screening processes, access control, surveillance equipment, security patrols, and personnel identification methods.
A few years later on the global level, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code as an amendment to the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention. The Code outlines the minimum security requirements for ships and ports and offers guidance in implementing those requirements.
Without question, both the MTSA and the ISPS Code have propelled maritime security to its strongest levels to date. Not only have the regulations themselves provided a baseline security standard, but they have also done so without placing any undue financial burdens on any country, company, or corporation.
Yet, while advances have been made, security deficiencies still exist. And in the high stakes realm of national and international security, these lingering problems, much more than a mere nuisance, pose a serious threat to safety. Therefore, just as improvements warrant recognition, so, too, flaws require remediation.
Security shortfalls I: Deficiencies in facilities
In February of this year, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on Maritime Security to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Fully titled ‘Mar itime Secur ity: Coast Guard Inspections Identify and Correct Facility Deficiencies, but More Analysis Needed of Program’s Staffing, Practices, and Data,’ the report (GAO-08-12) was the product of a GAO examination of the USCG’s fulfillment of the MTSA requirements to perform site surveys of ports and maritime facilities to ensure that security plans are in place and being implemented.