January 30 2008

Ship agents play vital role in shoreside security

SHIPS’ agents have the potential to be the single most influential element of shoreside security but institutionalised neglect might well make them potentially the most dangerous security “gap”, a shipping conference in the US was told. Jeffrey Milstein, operations manager at the Moran Agency, told the “Gaps in Port Security” A Shipping Agent’s Perspective session of the MarineLog conference in Washington that terrorists could themselves pose as ships agents, since there are no licensing or regulatory regimes that govern the profession.

In a world where “anyone can be an agent” terrorists cannot be unaware of the huge amounts of principals money that routinely pass through agents hands as well as the unparalleled scope an agent’s perch offers for the delivery of so-called weapons of mass destruction, Mr Milstein posited.

These comments were part of a disturbing presentation that, in another context, might have doubled as a “how to” guide for would-be perpetrators of security infringements against civilized society.

Mr Milstein started off by pointing out that the US is the only country in the world that does not have a Recognized Security Organization regime in order to vet so-called maritime security companies. This allows ordinary security companies to add “port” to their name and take charge of critical areas such as the provision of security guards. These port security guards have no maritime understanding and no experience with ships, and might previously have flipped hamburgers at McDonald’s restaurants or guarded malls and schools.

Citing personal experience, Mr Milstein said guards are known to be unaware that there is a ship at the end of the pier, or being unable to differentiate a stack from an oil tank. Yet, they are entrusted with guarding gateways to the city and the country, and carry guns often with no training on when to fire, whether to fire, or on whom to fire.

The millions of dollars spent on fences and CCTVs are an absolute waste, because there is zero spent on ensuring the right guards secure these gadgets, Mr Milstein said.

This reality is made worse by the fact that security plans mandated by the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code and its US equivalent do not even acknowledge the agent’s existence when the latter typically handles 90% of each port call, he went on. Yet, Customs and Border Protection and the US Coast Guard catch hold of the agent first if there is an incident, he pointed out.

Other shoreside “gaps” pointed out by Mr. Milstein included total ignorance of the possibility that dockers might spread infectious diseases. Seafarers and federal workers are made to get vaccinations, but port workers are not, he said. Terrorists can take advantage of this fact.

A similar dearth of commonsense pervades “gate lists” that guards consult when allowing strangers access to ships.

Terminals routinely leave this list entirely at ship agents discretion, and the names on this list are not vetted against national databases. There have been cases of third parties calling busy agents and getting on these lists under the guise of delivering a package to my uncle on the ship, Mr Milstein said. All a terrorist would need is a general knowledge of a ship’s schedule and its agent’s name, he added. The maritime security world is overtly obsessed with containers, howsoever valid a theme it might be, when it is much simpler to hide a WMD in a tanker’s engine room that is seldom looked at closely, he said. Moran Agency is so motivated by the critical importance of these less-known nuggets that it has established a dedicated Office of Maritime and Port Security that provides customized service to clients, Mr. Milstein said.

By Rajesh Joshi in Washington

Article from Lloyd's List

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