As I was Saying / Ben FrankelAdopting an ostrich-like approach to maritime security is not a good idea

Published 10 January 2006

Here is a situation with which everyone is unhappy: The shipping industry complains that different assessments of port security around the world lead to confusion, friction, and considerable additional costs to shippers. Security experts charge that the solution DHS found for it is the ultimate in an ostrich-like approach to ensuring maritime security.

Here is but the latest example. BBC Aramishad, a small British-registered ship, was refused entry into the United States last week on security grounds. The BBC Aramishad complied with country-specific International Ship and Port Facility Security Code requirements set by its flag state for a trip to West Africa, but it was later penalized as a result of the much tougher U.S. security regulations. The solution DHS found: It sent the ship to the Bahamas to add one more port of call to its manifest so it could pass U.S. security requirements (see below).

Here is how it went: The Gibraltar-flag ship is operated by Netherlands-based Briese Shipping. It made a call at Nouakchott in Mauritania before receiving unexpected orders to sail for Charleston, South Carolina. When the 3,457 dwt, 2004-built ship gave notice of arrival to the U.S. authorities, it was denied access on the grounds that it had not operated at Security Level 2 while in the Mauritanian port. DHS requires ships to operate at that level in Mauritania — and several other African countries — if they intend subsequently to visit the U.S. The reason: Many of these countries have exceedingly weak governmental structures and thoroughly corrupt and compromised police and security forces. Mauritania poses a special problem: It is a large, mostly empty country (it is more than three times the size of New Mexico, with only about three million people). Its vast, empty, and largely not-under-government-control spaces have proven tempting for terrorists from neighboring Algeria and Morocco in which to set camp, and for many other outlaws to hide. The U.S. government makes its position on security issues in African countries publicly known.