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February 12, 2004

U.S. signs ship boarding pact with Liberia

The United States and Liberia signed an agreement on Wednesday, February 11, on ship boarding in support of the Proliferation Security Initiative, a Presidential initiative announced last May, says the U.S. State Department.

The boarding agreement provides authority on a bilateral basis to board sea vessels suspected of carrying illicit shipments of weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems, or related materials.

"This," says the State Department, "is a tangible example of nonproliferation cooperation, which President Bush advocated in his speech ... at National Defense University. Liberia has the world’s second largest ship registry and this agreement sends a strong signal to proliferators that the United States and Liberia will not allow the use of their vessels for the transport or transfer of items of proliferation concern. The conclusion of this ship boarding agreement is an important step in further operationalizing the Proliferation Security Initiative and strengthening the mechanisms that we have at our disposal to interdict suspect weapons of mass destruction-related cargoes. The ship boarding agreement is modeled after similar arrangements that exist in the counter-narcotics arena."

The Liberian International Ship & Corporate Registry, the U.S.-headquartered company that operates the Liberian Registry says "the U.S.-Liberia accord underlines both the position of the Liberian Registry at the cutting edge of measures to improve international security at sea and the international importance of the Registry. It also provides U.S. protection to the quality ships flying the Liberian flag. "

LISCR CEO Yoram Cohen, says "This agreement demonstrates the commitment of the Liberian Registry to transparency, and the confidence we have in the high quality of the owners who use the Liberian Registry. With this accord, the U.S. and its allies can feel more secure, and our ships can feel more secure under the U.S. security umbrella. It puts the world on notice - Liberian ships are not available for terrorist activities. "

LISCR says the agreement provides that action may be taken only against "suspect vessels" as categorized in the agreement, and establishes rapid communication and cooperation, which may lead to authorized boarding and search in international waters by law enforcement officers of such vessels, and the cargo and persons on board.

At a practical level, says LISCR, each request to board and search a vessel must be
accompanied by, among other things, an explanation of the basis for suspecting the vessel of being involved in the proliferation of WMD. If consent to board is given by LISCR, as agent for Liberia, and evidence of the proliferation of WMD is found, U.S. officers are authorized to take preventative actions pending instructions from the flag state authority.

At the signing ceremony in Washington on February 11, 2004, Yoram Cohen welcomed the agreement between the Liberian and U.S. Governments. He said,"LISCR has always co-operated with, and received support from, the U.S. State Department. Given the high level of terrorism alert and awareness which currently exists in the world, we believe it only right that all parties dedicated to eliminating the threat of terrorism should work together in a spirit of transparency and co-operation to that end.

"More than 2,000 ships are now registered in Liberia. That number continues to grow because of the Registry's reputation for efficiency, safety and excellence, and because Liberia, in taking a lead on all maritime security-related issues, has demonstrated its determination to take every conceivable precaution to protect its owners and prevent their ships being used for unlawful purposes."

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