Conference Evaluates Progress in Averting 9/11-Style Attacks by Sea

NANTES, France -- Anti-terrorist measures designed to stop an attack of September 11 proportions using ships or seaports are to be evaluated at an international conference taking place in France Thursday and Friday.

The first-ever Maritime Security symposium in the western city of Nantes is to look at the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) code that came into effect worldwide a year ago at the behest of the United States.

The ISPS code requires ports and ships to draw up stringent plans to prevent their facilities being used for terrorist attacks.

Such facilities are subject to inspections and the certificates issued for those that pass muster are required for ships seeking to dock and for ports looking to assure incoming vessels of their safety.

Concerns over the vulnerability of international transport flared after the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington in which passenger aircraft were hijacked and turned into guided missiles.

But two seaborne attacks, one preceding September 11 and one following, highlighted the danger to maritime targets.

Both attacks occurred in Yemeni waters and both were attributed to Al-Qaeda.

In 2000, extremists ran a motorboat laden with explosive into a US navy destroyer, USS Cole, that was in the port of Aden, killing 17 sailors.

In 2002, a similar attack was carried out on a French supertanker, Limburg, off southern Yemen killing a Bulgarian crewmember.

"Since September 11, we have come to recognise that there is a security problem," said Laurent Galy, a professor at France's National Merchant Marine Academy which is jointly organising the conference with the the Port of Nantes-Saint Nazaire.

The ISPS measures "are necessary and indispensable... the threat will always be with us for at the least the next 50 years," he told AFP.

Galy added that British intelligence "put out a report in December which said that a maritime attack -- an attack on a ship or a port facility -- is probable over the next 12 months."

He also said that piracy, particularly in the Straits of Malacca off the southern Malay Peninsula, was being seen as disguised terrorism in some cases and that that issue would be discussed at the conference.

According to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the UN body that adopted the ISPS in 2002, most cargo vessels have already complied with the new code, as have virtually all passenger liners and parcel tankers.

Speakers The Nantes conference include the former head of the IMO's maritime security working group, James Wall, the head of the European Maritime Safety Agency, Willem de Ruiter, and Commander Clayton Diamond of the US Coast Guard.

Other participants include representatives of French and European maritime organisations.

Michel Quimbert, chairman of the Port of Nantes-Saint Nazaire, acknowledged that there was some friction from the implementation of the ISPS code, because companies evaluated risks in different ways and some ports were anxious not to be considered risk zones.