Threats from below



William Grant, Port Technology International, London, UK


A number of incidents in recent years confirm that the threat to international security, infrastructure and commerce has spread to the maritime sector

Attacks on shipping in and around ports, such as those on US Navy destroyer USS Cole in the port of Aden, 12 October 2000, and on French oil tanker the Limburg as it was approaching the Minah Al-Dabah oil terminal in the Gulf of Aden, 6 October 2002, demonstrate new tactics being used to breach harbour security. The 2004 suicide speedboat attacks on tankers moored to the Bakr oil terminal outside Iraq’s Basra port highlight the possible consequences to the world economy if such an installation was attacked. And in March 2005, the Associated Press reported the Philippine military had confirmed that terrorists are being trained to use scuba-diving equipment to attach explosives to a vessel’s hull.

Those investigating the Limburg attack were told that Al-Qaeda had at one stage considered using divers and had trained personnel for this type of underwater attack. In the end, a suicide boat crew was used, but it alerted the maritime community to the threat posed by divers attempting to infiltrate coastal facilities or attach limpet mines to ships in port. The threat has already been demonstrated in Sri Lanka where ‘Tamil Tiger’ (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) separatists have successfully used divers to attack and sink ships in harbour.

The ISPS code

In 2004, International Ship and Port Facilities Security (ISPS) Code was established to create a framework for governments, agencies and the shipping industry to co-operate to ensure the security of ports and vessels. Since 95 per cent of world trade is transported by water, this is of crucial importance to all trading countries.

Within the maritime industry, ports are seen as key targets. Ships carrying hazardous substances such as liquefied natural gas are also at risk. Potential forms of attack range from: improvised explosive devices being attached to port structures or vessels berthed in and around ports; acoustic mines delivered to the seabed within a port; small-boat attack; hijacked vessel collision; and dirty bombs carried within cargo containers, either for detonation at the port or for later use further inland.

The ISPS Code requires port authorities to maintain effective security within their facilities, enabling them to ensure secure perimeters and control staff, passengers and cargo moving through their gates. Much of the technology required to do this already exists in the form of surveillance equipment such as CCTV and electro-optic sensors and sonar linked to monitoring centres. These are backed by physical patrols of the perimeter, container/vehicle scanning, passenger profiling and staff control.

Waterside security requires above- and below-water detection and sophisticated imaging systems. Commercial ports have been using vessel traffic systems (VTS) for some time and these have evolved to incorporate enhanced features that are suited to the detection of suspicious and unauthorised traffic behaviours.

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