Security Matters

The effects of new maritime security regulations introduced on July 1 are only now being truly felt as boats arrive at marinas that were previously empty over the hurricane season. Although the International Ship and
Port Facility Security (ISPS) regulations are an extension of the existing 1974 SOLAS convention, they will usher in some visible changes for the Caribbean – as in this month’s St Maarten Charter Yacht Exhibition where entry to the marinas is strictly for those with security-cleared passes.

The aim of ISPS regulations, which are enforced by all International Maritime Organization signatories, is to protect international ports from terrorist attacks by ships, and require ports and certain vessels to adopt new security practices. But these rules are by no means restricted to cruise ships and oil tankers. Although private vessels such as cruising yachts are not affected, any vessel over 500 tons needs to demonstrate a security plan and have an onboard ship security officer and can only dock at an ISPS certified port. This meant, over the summer period, stories coming out of the US of megayacht skippers being forced to dock at commercial ports instead of their usual marinas, which had not yet received certification. Foreign flagged vessels of less than 500 tons must comply with ISPS if they have more than 12 paying passengers.

If the megayacht sector, in which vessels are effectively treated as commercial boats, has had to sit up and take notice, so too do the marinas in which they dock. Because boats heading for US waters are subject to a full search if coming from a non-ISPS certified port, the burden is on the island marinas where they spend the season to meet the security requirements (at their own cost) in order to retain their business. There have already been cases of commercial ships refusing to dock in Caribbean ports because they are not ISPS-certified.

On the ground, this means the days of wandering unauthorized around marinas such as St Maarten’s Port de Plaisance and Isle de Sol are over and if the US goes onto full terrorist alert, the marinas could be shut altogether.

Whereas a megayacht marina like Isle de Sol was already built in an ISPS-friendly layout, with the sole access through a security checkpoint, for a hybrid marina like La Palapa, the issue could be a source of headaches.

La Palapa’s Valeska Luckert welcomes the new regulations, however. “It means better security for your clients and will make it tedious for those who want to enter the marina for the wrong reasons,” she says. Although the marina currently receives boats up to 250 tons only, putting it outside the need for mandatory changes, they will still be pressing ahead with installation of 8ft high gates, security cameras and security guards. The expectation is that the 500-ton will systematically be lowered to the point where the marina will either have to be ready, or turn away boats. Because the marina is along the waterfront with no single point of access, visitors to the Soggy Dollar Bar or other popular businesses will have to pass first through a security check. “It will change the spirit of the Caribbean,” Luckert agreed.

On the other side of the island, Marina Fort Louis‘ Manager Etienne Taquin has proof that a security-heavy marina does not have to leave charm at the gates. “I built the marina like a military base,” says Taquin. Anticipating ISPS by some years, Taquin designed a marina that is reached by a promontory, with access through a Close-circuit TV monitored electric gate.

“People on megayachts are happy not to have other people on the dock walking around looking at their boat and talking to their personnel,” he says. As a result, Taquin has no changes to make in order to comply with new security demands. Not that he is taking things easy, “Even though I don’t need it because of the law, I’m ready to install it,” he explains, “because I’m in between two installations [Galisbay cargo port and the passenger ferry terminal] that need it.”

At worst, July’s ISPS regulations could create a two-tier Caribbean circuit, with wealthy marinas that can afford to upgrade on one hand, and more cash-strapped islands on the other. The IMO recently published a list of 17 blacklisted countries, which thankfully did not include a single Caribbean entry, which failed to provide adequate information on the status of their port security. Vessels carrying these countries’ flags will be subject to exhaustive searches on reaching US waters and could be turned away from some marinas. The fear is that, should the bar be raised at any point, one of our region’s islands will be forced to drop out.

At best, though, the anti-terrorism measures will prevent the kind of atrocity that could have far more catastrophic consequences on the Caribbean marine industry.