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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.

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