Pier Pressure Can Increase When Security Officials, Ship Employees Meet

The oil company tanker master was quite emphatic. 'If anyone thinks that all this inspecting, surveying and vetting is making me better

Something that is new in the ISPS regime, which was not a feature of 'normal' port state control, is the enthusiasm of security staff to 'test' the ship's systems and procedure with trick questions and behaviour designed to find faults in the ship's organisation.

Several of these are outlined in a summary by the International Chamber of Shipping, collected by members of the Round Table of International Associations and helpfully reproduced in the BIMCO Bulletin.

Reading these accounts, it is difficult to escape from the notion that seafaring is becoming a pretty joyless career option these days, having routinely to meet some of the officials whose actions are described.

Like the US Customs official on Portland Maine, who 'began shouting and threatening the gangway watch officer' after he had refused to take a ship- issued security badge, subsequently delaying the commencement of discharge by 12 hours in what the ICS commentator suggests was 'an abuse of power'.

Or the two visitors dressed as US Coast Guard inspectors who boarded a ship in New York, one offering as ID a 'joke' document, purporting to identify the bearer as an extra-terrestrial.

When properly denied access to the ship, they threatened to delay the vessel, stating that the ship would be shifted off the berth until a full inspection could take place.

Worth comparing the USCG 'joke' with the dire treatment meted out down the road in Philadelphia to the Turkish master who, exasperated at the delays in affording him clearance, made a crack about a bomb being aboard and ended up in jail.

A sense of humour is evidently highly selective among security staff.

There is an account of a US Coast Guard visitation to a ship in Quincy, Massachusetts, where there were three separate 'tests' inflicted on the ship, starting with a member of the team who failed to show ID, attempting to persuade the master to leave the gangway unmanned while the whole crew was mustered and then proposing an unescorted visit to the engineroom.

The ship passed its tests with flying colours, but the master may well have reflected that his long professional training could have benefited from tuition in dramatics.

From the several reports submitted after visits to US ports it seems clear that there is a disturbing degree of interpretation of the regulations permitted by individual officers and no guarantee that something judged as compliant at Port A will be so judged at Port B.

And it would be wrong to suggest that the only problems are being encountered in the US. Indeed there were accounts of positive and harmonious encounters in the US, as elsewhere. And it is perhaps worth noting, for the record, that the reports give only one side of the encounter.

But what on earth does the SSO do when faced with an entire bloody-minded stevedoring workforce in Marseilles which refuses to take ID badges and generally co-operate in any way? Does the master stop the job, send the dockers ashore and provoke what could be a stoppage that could bring the whole port to a standstill?

Does he risk the wrath and sanctions of the French government for NOT taking such a tough line? And, when faced with instructions from charterers that the ship's security level is raised only the preserve of the flag state does the master tell the charterer to get lost, refer the matter to higher authority or submit quietly?

Such questions speak volumes about why a competent, professional and diplomatic master is worth about 10 times as much as any shipping company would ever pay him. Where will it go from here? One would like to think that these accounts will eventually end up on the desks of people of sufficient power and intellect to learn from the incidents and instruct their front line staff on the optimum way to conduct themselves.

Hopefully, these practical elements of the ISPS Code at work will be taken back to the International Maritime Organisation and if the code requires amendment in the light of experience we would hope that this can be done speedily.

Clearly, as with so much in the relationship between ship and shore, it is ignorance of the other person's point of view that causes so many problems.