At the Africa Oil and Gas Forum in Houston, Texas Wednesday, security experts discussed the need for compliance with international security standards at ports, in order to prevent criminals or terrorists from disrupting commerce.
Officials say cooperation is the key to success. Even as African nations look to building transportation infrastructure to facilitate trade and energy sector development, they must keep a wary eye on threats from criminals and terrorists. Security experts speaking at the Africa Oil and Gas Forum noted that the very things that nations rely on for revenue and economic development can be turned against them by organized criminals and terrorist groups.
For example, a tanker full of oil or gas could be utilized by smugglers or turned into a deadly bomb by terrorists. An explosion in a port or at an oil production facility could be catastrophic.
Edward Kloth, an official with the U.S. State Department's Office of Transportation, says terrorists in particular are interested in such diabolical uses of energy and transportation assets. "We now face a determined and resourceful enemy who has already demonstrated his understanding of the importance of energy supplies," said Mr. Kloth. "These terrorists have turned vehicles of peaceful transportation, planes, trains -- we all know what happened in Madrid -- and trucks -- we have seen this in Africa when our two embassies were attacked -- into deadly instruments of destruction. We must plan on the assumption that they will do so with ships when they can and if they can."
Ronald Thomason, vice-president of the Florida-based company SeaSecure, has worked all over the world on issues of maritime security. He says the biggest problem is that the people in charge of commercial facilities and infrastructure tend to think that once they have paid for fences and guards, their security problems have been addressed. "The biggest hurdle is getting over the presumption of security," he said. "I like to tell people that I am professionally paranoid. I get paid to go in and look at the dark side and find what can go wrong. But, all too often, the people who are now in charge at these critical facilities do not have a security perspective."
Mr. Thomason says he has seen many ports where perimeters are poorly guarded or where a secure fence has been breached in order to allow easy entry and exit for workers, without a thought to how these defects could be exploited by those with evil intent. He says he has sometimes faced resentment from officials who think he is trying to impose a so-called "American standard."
But he notes that the standards that went into effect on July 1 for all seaports, terminal facilities, offshore platforms and commercial vessels were created by the United Nations International Maritime Organization for the good of all countries. "It is not the U.S. standard, this is an international standard," he noted. "This is put in place to provide secure operating environment for maritime commerce worldwide. Their business, their economic infrastructure, their citizens deserve the same degree of protection as anyone else."
U.S. officials say commercial maritime vessels that come from or have visited non-compliant ports or other facilities could be delayed or even barred from entering U.S. ports. Many other nations are taking the same precautions in order to prevent criminal or terrorist use of ships. The standards and practices are set forth in the UN's International Ship and Port Facility Security Code, which is now in effect worldwide.