April 18, 2005

Australia at risk from maritime terror attack

A terrorist attack on Australia's maritime interests is a credible scenario. That is a key finding of a report just released by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI). Among other things it recommends "investigation of the risks involved in the employment of large numbers of foreign seafarers on the Australian coast."

ASPI is a Government-funded but independent policy research institute.

Its latest report, "Future unknown: The terrorist threat to Australian maritime security," notes that the the threat of maritime terrorism has led to fundamental changes in the international maritime security environment, particularly the introduction of the International Ship and Port Facility Security code.

Australia, however, still faces major institutional and operational challenges in reducing the risks of maritime terrorism.

The ASPI report identifies where gaps exist in current arrangements. It includes recommendations to improve coordination between national and state agencies and to develop Australia's national capacity to manage maritime security in the longer term. Other problem areas include the management of high-consequence dangerous goods, the management of the supply chain, and possible risks associated with the employment of large numbers of foreign seafarers on the Australian coast.

Although the Australian Federal Government has dramatically increased spending on counter-terrorism measures, the ASPI report says that so far few, if any additional resources have been provided for the prevention and response elements of maritime security in ports or close to shore.

The report makes the following recommendations:

Legal and jurisdictional

1.The state premiers and the Northern Territory Chief Minister should meet jointly to consider jurisdictional, legal, information-sharing and resource issues related to the coordination of capabilities to provide maritime security, including how the Joint Offshore Protection Command will interact with them in preventing and responding to maritime security threats or attacks.


2. The states should establish dedicated port police units for major ports to work with state water police, and be responsible for port security on the landside.

3. The Australian Government should introduce a A$100-million Maritime and Port Security Program over three years, on a cost-shared basis, to further modernize and strengthen maritime and port security systems and programs.

4. To strengthen container security, Australia should adopt the U..S 24-hour manifest rule for cargo destined for Australia and monitor developments in container seal and tracking technologies. Customs should also randomly inspect transshipped empty containers.

5. The Department of Transport and Regional Services (DOTARS) should be given a clear mandate to secure the entire supply chain and work with Customs, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the Critical Infrastructure Protection Branch of the Attorney-General's Department to adopt a broader supply-chain security perspective that ensures port, ship and cargo security.

6. The Australian Government, through the Office of Transport Security (OTS), should develop publicly available guidelines for the security of high-risk ships in Australian ports, including for port visits by U.S. Navy vessels.

7. The Australian Government should conduct an investigation of the risks involved in the employment of large numbers of foreign seafarers on the Australian coast, including on vessels carrying high-consequence dangerous cargoes.

Prevention and response

8. The states and the Northern Territory should strengthen security at major ports by upgrading their on-water capabilities.

9. The Australian Defence Force should have a direct involvement in providing security for ships, ports and port facilities against the threat of maritime terrorism. This responsibility should be assigned to the appropriate operational commander and include the establishment of Mobile Maritime Security Response Teams.

10. The Joint Offshore Protection Command should give the highest priority to the development of effective maritime domain awareness, using all sources of relevant information.

11. The government's campaign to raise public awareness about the risks of terrorism should include information to the community, especially the maritime community, on the risks of maritime terrorism.

Cooperation and capacity building

12. State governments should establish state maritime security committees to develop, coordinate and integrate processes at security-regulated and other ports. The state committees would be the key components of a national maritime security architecture that links to the national-level Maritime Industry Security Consultative Forum.

13. The Australian Government should commission a comprehensive analytical study to identify key vulnerabilities of ports, port facilities and shipping.

14. The Australian Government should take action to reverse the current trend towards a declining maritime skills base, including through a sponsored cadet scheme to encourage young men and women to pursue a career at sea, and a review of the taxation regime for Australian seafarers working overseas.

15. The Protective Security Coordination Centre, in cooperation with state police, port authorities and DOTARS, should initiate a regular round of confidential workshops for developing port security responses and maritime exercises to test port security leaders.

16. Australia's Chief Scientist should prepare a paper that addresses the scientific, technological and analytical requirements for Australian port and maritime security.

17. The work of the inter-departmental committee on regional maritime security cooperation should be given high priority and sufficient funding provided to implement its proposals.


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