ISPS Code – How it figures in PH fight against terrorism



The International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS Code) in 2002 following the attack on the Twin Towers in the US. The Code aims to detect threats to security and introduce measures to prevent security incidents on ships and port facilities. The Code covers ships engaged in international voyages but as it is in many other IMO conventions, parties to the code are not precluded, and are even encouraged as they see fit, to make domestic application of the standards and provisions of these conventions.

The Code stipulates a slew of operational and technical regulations with which maritime facilities must comply, including the development and implementation of a Ship Security Plan (SSP) and a Port Facility Security Plan (PFSP). In developing the SSP and the PFSP, ship and port security assessments have to be undertaken to determine the risks and vulnerabilities attendant to the operation of these facilities. Both SSP and PFSP define and install measures that will detect and deter access of terrorists and/or the introduction of weapons into the facility. These security plans are approved after the government has conducted an audit.

ISPS Application in the Philippines

The Philippines is an archipelago with thousands of islands with maritime facilities all over the country such as ships, boats, port facilities and terminals, all of which could be considered as vulnerable targets of terrorist attacks. The government must put up the necessary platform to protect these maritime facilities. These facilities also provide the possible means of transporting terrorists, unauthorized weapons, incendiaries or explosives. In terms of the number of people who could be harmed and the substantial amount of economic assets and activities that could be damaged and immobilized, maritime facilities appear to be attractive targets.

The Philippines adopted and implemented the ISPS Code keeping in mind the adverse impact on the country’s economy and trade in case of non-compliance. Philippine-flagged ships operating in overseas routes may be denied entry into foreign ports, or conversely, foreign ships may opt to skip Philippine ports in case of failure to install the necessary requirements of the Code. In the implementation of the Code, the Philippines also opted to cover Philippine-flagged ships engaged in domestic voyages and ports that cater primarily to these ships. The Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA), the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) and the Office of Transport Security (OTS) exercise functions relating to the implementation of the Code.

The recent pronouncement by the President of the inclusion of the New People’s Army (NPA) in the list of terrorist groups operating in the country raises security concern. Likewise, attempts of suspected international terrorists to enter the country through the airports do not preclude them from trying to gain access through our ports. Do these circumstances have any impact on the maritime industry, at least in terms of drumming up the implementation of the ISPS Code?

We work on the assumption that ships and ports in the country are implementing their respective security plans and therefore are able to check on any such attempt by terrorists. However, being aware of the terrorist’s “psyche,” he who will not hesitate to sow fear and inflict injury on anyone in order to advance his belief, dictates that we must at all times exercise vigilance. We must stand guard over those maritime assets that could serve as entry points for terrorists. This may mean increasing the security level in the country such that ships calling on Philippine ports will have to make a corresponding change to the security measures onboard.

We never heard of any occasion when the alert level on account of the ISPS Code implementation in the country was ever elevated, notwithstanding the declaration by the Philippine National Police (PNP) raising Terror Alert Level 3 last year. We do not wish that to happen, but it may help to know if threats like those were amply dealt with cohesively by the various agencies and organizations of government. After all, a per-agency approach may prove inadequate considering that the threat is to the people at large.

As at the moment, it is easy to conclude the country achieved some success in the implementation of the ISPS Code, and we remain optimistic despite the renewed local terrorist agitations.


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