The Washington Diplomat / July 2004
By Larry Luxner
Seaports across the Caribbean must shape up or ship out — literally.
Come July 1, the U.S. Coast Guard will have the authority to deny entry to any cruise ship, cargo ship or other vessel that has stopped at a port which isn't in compliance with a strict set of new post-9/11 security regulations.
The tough new law — aimed at preventing a terrorist attack on the high seas — will cost tens of millions of dollars throughout the region. Yet even cash-strapped Caribbean islands that depend heavily on cruise-ship traffic are finding that they have little choice but to comply.
"Every single port has to be in compliance with the new International Ship & Port Facility Security (ISPS) code. It's all part of the strategic concerns of the United States, which is trying to insure that none of these ports can be used as launching pads for a terrorist act," said Anton E. Edmunds, a native of St. Lucia and deputy director of Washington-based Caribbean Central American Action (CCAA). "They say any ship that touches a port which isn't in compliance won't be allowed entry into a U.S. port, so this has serious consequences for international trade and the cruise-ship industry."
Ellsworth John, ambassador of the tiny island nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (population 116,000), is working diligently to meet the ISPS criteria, despite shortages of money and personnel.
"We are trying our best to meet these basic requirements by the July 1 deadline," he said. "The problem for a country like St. Vincent is that we're a group of 32 islands, and therefore we have a number of ports. Therein lies the problem."
In order to help smaller Caribbean countries like St. Vincent make the deadline, CCAA has teamed up with the Caribbean Shipping Association, the Florida Ports Council, the Organization of American States and the Ports Management Association of the Caribbean to form a new entity: the Caribbean Basin Maritime Security Alliance.
This alliance has launched a pilot program to survey and assess the security requirements of 15 ports throughout the English-speaking eastern Caribbean. Half of the program's $400,000 cost is being funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development; the other half is coming from private-industry sources.
"It's about terrorism, access control and providing a secure environment to work in," said John LaCapra, president of the Florida Ports Council. "But it gets complicated because historically, seaports have not had to provide the type of security that's required now. Ocean commerce has always been about making sure the goods move to market better, faster and cheaper. With these new provisions, you have to find a balance between port operations and the ability to inspect the goods."
According to the Coast Guard, efforts to meet the U.S. version of the ISPS code — known as the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 — will cost upwards of $10 billion in the United States alone. He said that Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades has already spent $43 million on security upgrades, and the Port of Miami $50 million.
"The cruise-ship industry is spending its own money within their own terminals. Under U.S. law, the private sector must comply with the standards on their own, so there's a tremendous cost involved," said LaCapra, whose Tallahassee-based organization represents 14 ports across the state of Florida.
LaCapra said money is being spent on three levels: by the public port for access control, by private terminal operators for screeners, divers, dogs and the like, and by the Coast Guard on water entrances to ports.
Edmunds said the survey being conducted by the Caribbean Basin Maritime Security Alliance covers 15 ports in Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
"Implementation could conceivably cost each country as much as $5 million," said Edmunds, though that number of course varies from one island to the next.
Probably the best-prepared island in the Caribbean is Jamaica, which has already spent $7 million on port security.
Courtney Rattray, charge d'affaires at the Jamaican Embassy, said the cruise-ship industry is crucial to his country, which last year received over a million visitors on 509 cruise-ship calls (not to mention 3,843 cargo ship calls).
While Kingston is a major transshipment center, the focus at Montego Bay is cruise ships and at Port Antonio, banana vessels.
Most of the $7 million has been spent at Kingston, mainly on the installation of six mobile gamma-ray units that can inspect containers and five similar units that can inspect breakbulk cargo.
"We also have closed-circuit TV surveillance systems installed at all three ports so we can monitor operations around the clock, as well as an electronic access control and badging system," he said. "This is to provide security clearance for all persons entering and leaving the port, and is linked into our police criminal records office. It'll serve as a red flag to anybody whose name appears on a watch list."
Offshore, he said, the Jamaican government has put in place underwater surveillance cameras, "strategically placed to inspect the hulls of ships before they come in or depart."
Effective May 1, cargo ships entering Jamaican ports now pay a $105 security fee per full containerload, and $210 per container for less-than-containerload shipments. So far, no security fee has been assessed on cruise ships.
The aim, said Rattray, is not only to fight terrorism but also the smuggling of narcotics as well as stowaways. Finally, officials place a four-foot-high floating barrier to form a security cordon around cruise vessels.
"We depend heavily on our tourism sector, and perish the thought that something could happen while a cruise ship was in port," he explained.
Trinidad & Tobago is also working hard to meet the new deadline.
"From what I understand, the government there is making every effort to be compliant by July 1," said CCAA's Edmunds, noting that Trinidad's Point Lisas Industrial Development Corp. is taking the lead on this, since that facility contains a number of facilities producing methane gas, LNG and other petrochemicals.
"With liquid natural gas coming in and out of there, they must be especially concerned about security," he said.