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Friday, September 21, 2018


 So the ISPS Code deadline has finally arrived. The last few days have seen intense activity from journalists – not the just the usual shipping crowd, but from journalists representing media as diverse as BBC Radio, BBC Television, Sunday Times, New York Times, Dow Jones, Reuters, Edie, FTSE Global Markets - most trying to squeeze a sensational story out of this international deadline not being met by a significant number of ships and ports.

So has world trade ground to a halt with hundreds of ships detained by port state control around the globe? Not as far as we can see – although it’s still early days. But such an outcome was always going to be extremely unlikely. Why? Because no country wants to see world trade disrupted – far less its own trade. And because a large chunk of those ships that are certificated will be those trading to maritime security hotspots the US and Europe.

Many states, including the US, have been making very hard-line noises for the last few months – vowing absolutely no exceptions to the rule that if there is no ISSC on board then there is no port entry. However, in the days leading up to the deadline, the approach softened even if the tone didn’t. The US said it would accept properly issued short-term certificates; Australia said it would take non-compliant ships but tell them not to come back again without an ISSC; the general tone started to shift from confrontation, to cooperation with those who are doing a proper job.

The rate of increase in ISPS Code certification during the course of this month has been nothing less than sensational. The number of port facilities with fully approved plans has gone from less than 20% end May to 32% on June 25 and 53.4% on June 30 – based on responses from 86 governments. INTERTANKO’s certifications went from 6.5% end April to 19% end May, 56% mid June and 72% on June 30.

Some countries and operators took a long time to notify anyone when they gained compliance, others may still not have notified anyone of their certification. But the certification bottleneck was no fantasy. You only have to check out the IMO website to see that a huge number of ports certified actually only finally made it in second half of June – including a large number of key oil terminals in the West.

The next few days and weeks are bound to throw up a few detentions, some delays and some operational glitches – what, exactly, should a ‘suspicious package’ look like? Or what does an all-male crew do when confronted with a female port state control officer to search? But it looks as though the sensational ISPS Code story is going to remain an object of fantasy.