Having scaled the hurdle of the 2013 ultimatum on full compliance to the ISPS Code, Nigeria has achieved comfortable position as ports security is now a top priority. GLORIA EHIAGHE traces what it took Nigeria to attain this level.

Over the years, acts of insecurity, lack of safety consciousness and threats of terrorism have pervaded the global maritime landscape. Dishonesty and fraud-like tendencies which have bedeviled activities in the maritime industry have complicated perceived threats of insecurity in the ports.

On September 11, 2001, the world witnessed the bombing of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York by terrorists, resulting in the death of over 3,000 persons. Following this incident, ideas were canvassed and fears expressed that if the air can be so vulnerable to terrorist attack, engaging the ports and other maritime facilities on land would be a simple job. It therefore became necessary to tinker with the 1974-1988 convention on Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) to create awareness to maritime nations on the need to put in place certain measures that would shield maritime facilities such as ports from terrorist attacks. Thus came into being the International Ships and Ports Facility Security (ISPS) Code to which every port is to comply with in order to ensure safety of international trade, persons transiting the ports and other critical facilities. The ISPS Code outlined preventive measures against the likelihood of terrorist attacks on ships and ports facilities worldwide. The ISPS Code came into force in 2004.

Objectives of the ISPS Code are to:

• establish an international framework involving co-operation between contracting governments, government agencies, local administrations and the shipping and port industries to detect/assess security threats and take preventive measures against security incidents affecting ships or port facilities used in international trade

• to establish the respective roles and responsibilities of all these parties concerned, at the national and international level, for ensuring maritime security

• to ensure the early and efficient collation and exchange of security-related information
• to provide a methodology for security assessments so as to have in place plans and procedures to react to changing security levels

• to ensure confidence that adequate and proportionate maritime security measures are in place.

The objectives are to be achieved by the designation of appropriate security officers/personnel on each ship, in each port facility and in each shipping company to prepare and to put into effect the security plans that will be approved for each ship and port facility.

The Code does not specify specific measures that each port and ship must take to ensure the safety of her facilities against terrorism because of the many different types and sizes of these facilities. Instead it outlines "a standardized, consistent framework for evaluating risk, enabling governments to offset changes in threat with changes in vulnerability for ships and port facilities."

For ships, the framework includes requirements for ship security plans, security officers, company security officers and certain onboard equipment.
For port facilities, the requirements include port facility security plans, port facility security officers and security equipment.

In addition, the requirements for ships and for port facilities include monitoring and controlling access, monitoring the activities of people and cargo and ensuring that security communications are readily available. Since 2004 when the ISPS Code came into operation, Nigeria has made unsatisfactory efforts to comply with the security code.

Upon being appointed the Designated Authority (DA) for the implementation of the ISPS Code in Nigeria, the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) officially stated that the effective implementation of the code in Nigerian ports would involve a continuous year- to- year exercise with committees mandated to periodically inspect Port Facilities (PF) in order to ensure that required standards are achieved and maintained. NIMASA has focused not only on PF listed in the United States Coast Guard (USCG) report but on the generality of PFs in the nation’s maritime domain which were placed on the watch over a period of time.

In May 2013, the USCG visited Nigeria and conducted an assessment of the security level of her ports. Issues of non-compliance to the ISPS Code were noted following which a 90-day ultimatum was slammed on Nigeria to upgrade or face negative consequences. The USCG team was expected back in the country in September to determine Nigeria’s compliance with the deadline.

In the last days of August 2013, Patrick Akpobolokemi, Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), the government’s Designated Authority (DA) for the enforcement of the ISPS Code in Nigeria, briefed newsmen in Lagos on efforts of the agency to beat the deadline.

He hinted that tremendous successes had been recorded in making Nigerian port facilities ISPS Code compliant.

Following the ultimatum, he said, port facilities in Nigeria started to fully comply with the requirements. Akpobolokemi said that NIMASA had commissioned an audit of Nigeria’s coastal maritime assets to establish the number, location and nature of operations of all port facilities and jetties in the country. The audit was expected to facilitate the effective execution of NIMASA’s brief as the DA for Nigeria’s implementation of the ISPS Code.

The “audit will help the DA capture and catalogue all port/berthing facilities as well as verify their ISPS Code compliance status, NIMASA DG revealed.”

“The DA has just recently concluded Verification Inspection Exercises (VIE) on all shore-based PFs (port facilities) in the country. The report of this VIE will form the basis for re-certification of these PFs in line with ISPS code requirements. PFs deemed non-compliant will not be recertified and in extreme cases, attract added punitive action,” the NIMASA boss warned.

He explained that one of the problems that had plagued port facilities, jetties and terminals was the lack of understanding of the ISPS Code, its relevance and application.

Akpobolokemi said: “To address this, policies and measures are being put in place to ensure more training and capacity building among not just security personnel but all personnel in the maritime sector as everybody has a role to play in the ISPS theatre. Security companies that provide guard force personnel to companies operating in the maritime domain will now be required to provide ISPS training for their personnel seeing that they are functionally the primary custodians of the ISPS protocol. These security companies as well as vendors and infrastructure service providers in the maritime sector are undergoing registration with the DA in order to ensure better regulation and to streamline their activities in the maritime security arena.

“In accordance with the ISPS Code, it is the responsibility of the DA to set or change security levels for PFs in its domain. The DA will continue to work closely with the Office of the National Security Adviser and other security agencies in determining operating security levels based on the evaluation of risks and trends as well as intelligence in the various Maritime Security Zones (MSZ). The DA is working on a strategy that will see her develop capacity to gather intelligence independently and thus contribute to the nation’s intelligence gathering effort as is the case in many other countries. Furthermore, as the nation’s maritime security regulatory body, it is key that the DA be up-to-date with trends and events in both the domestic and international maritime turf. The DA is considering cost-effective ways of ensuring that it builds its domain awareness capabilities.”

The NIMASA boss said that critical success factor to the implementation programme will be the capacity and the will to enforce the mandate by a regime of incentives and sanctions, pointing out that in the past, “compliance was a huge issue as the previous DA lacked capacity to strictly enforce its mandate having lacked constitutional powers to do so.”

He posited that with NIMASA duly-established by law and possessing enforcement powers, the DA hopes to leverage this in ensuring stakeholders and particularly the port facilities owners/operators remain compliant.

“Considering that the ISPS (Code) is purely a security-related protocol, and given that activities bordering on maritime security are in fact matters of national security, the DA will not go into further details of its implementation strategy,” Akpobolokemi said.

Shortly before the expiration of the ultimatum, however, the US Coast Guard team to Nigeria visited NIMASA. At a meeting with members of the ISPS Code Implementation Committee in Nigeria, the leader, Mr.Tivo Romero, commended the designated authority (DA) for ISPS Code implementation in Nigeria.

Romero said having assessed six port facilities in the country during their two-week visit, the team noticed tremendous improvement and commended NIMASA for the outreach to facility operators. His words: “I must commend the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency for its efforts so far. However, the US Coast Guard will provide required technical assistance to ensure that infrastructural and legal instruments needed for effective implementation of the ISPS Code in Nigeria are put in place. I urge you all to see this project as a voyage which we have all embarked on, that must be concluded.”

Romero dismissed media reports that claimed that the US Government would embargo vessels from visiting Nigerian ports, even as he noted that the US is fully behind Nigeria as a strong business partner that requires desired partnership, a reason for which both countries would always continue to work together and to ensure adequate security in the maritime sector.