Southeast Asia's maritime industry is striving to meet new United Nations security requirements by a July deadline. Officials are warning that failure to meet the deadline could cause huge economic losses. The International Ship and Port Facility Security Code is meant to boost security for international trade and prevent terror attacks on ports and ships plying vital sea-lanes.
For Asia, meeting the requirements by the deadline of July 1 is vital. The region is home to some of the world's biggest ports. Asian companies operate more than 40 percent of the global commercial fleet and supply the vast majority of crew members.
Moreover, a quarter of world trade and half the world's oil travel through poorly secured Southeast Asian waters, particularly the Malacca Strait, which is notorious for pirate attacks.
Singapore and Hong Kong are implementing the new measures. Most of Singapore's ports, which get traffic of some 17,000 tankers annually, will be fully compliant this month. Hong Kong's Marine Department deputy director, Roger Tupper said that the territory will be ready.
"Hong Kong is the largest container port in the world," he explained. "It's of great importance for Hong Kong to ensure that we meet the requirements to prevent any interference in shipping by terrorist activity. Similarly, we have significant number of ships flying the Hong Kong flag, and these ships will also be compliant."
However, for some Southeast Asian nations, meeting the deadline is more difficult because of their geography and the cost.
Oil exporter Indonesia says only five of its 141 ports could possibly meet the requirements and Philippine seafarers, who make up an estimated quarter of the world's crew members, are scrambling to complete security training.
Some experts warn of significant trade disruptions if a large number of ports and ships are not ready by the deadline.
The United States will detain any non-compliant ship or a ship from a blacklisted port if it enters U.S. harbors. Insurance costs may increase for non-compliant ship operators and ports.
Hartmut Hesse, deputy director of the maritime safety division of the United Nations International Maritime Organization, said that ports and shippers who make the deadline will have a commercial advantage.
"Trade may have to move to compliant ships, port facilities and countries and they will be using their competitive edge in promoting their secure ports, secure ships to the industry." he said. "Compliant ships, compliant ports will be able to do business much faster than they may have been in the past."
Mr. Hesse said that most nations, which are members of the United Nations International Maritime Organization will meet the deadline.
Intertanko, an organization representing 70 percent of the world's fleet of oi, chemical and gas-tankers, claims there will be no disruption in international fuel flow.
Jeffrey Chen, a maritime expert at the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies in Singapore, said that the challenge is balancing security with efficient shipping.
"These things have an economic factor to it," he said. "It is not just security, security and security. "Security comes at a price and adds to costs. It's not something that the shipping community would want."
U.S. customs officials already inspect containers bound for the United States from Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysian ports. Some shipping companies are adding security measures on top of the international security code, such as radiation screening to detect radioactive materials that terrorists could use in weapons.
With trade being the engine of Asian economic growth, experts say cooperation between governments and the maritime industry is critical. Without safe shipping, economies throughout Asia are threatened.