By SOPHIE DONOGHUE
ANTWERP – Belgium’s premier port has been one of the earliest to align its policy and practices with international standards and with the EU’s 2004 port security law. At the request of the European Commission, the Antwerp Port Authority has now completed a new “security exercise handbook”.
The handbook’s pre-release review took place here on 10 October during a closed workshop on maritime security topics organised by ECSA, the European Corporate Security Association. SECURITY EUROPE attended the workshop.
The EU’s Regulation EC 725/2004 on enhancing ship and port facility security makes implementation of the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS code) mandatory for its 27 member states. The main objective of this regulation is to protect ports and harbours against terrorism and other unlawful acts. It requires port facilities to carry out four drills and a large-scale exercise each year.
Performing effective drills and exercises are of vital important not only because exercise results are checked by the inspection teams of the European Commission but also to prepare the port to be able act correctly and quickly in the case of an emergency, said workshop participant Rik Verhaegen, responsible for security at the port of Antwerp.
His organisation’s new port security handbook, entitled “Exercitium, Drill & Exercise Handbook”, was officially presented to the EU’s Regulatory Committee for Maritime Security (MARSEC) on 11 October. Verhaegen said the manual aims to show ports how to develop tools for security exercises and drills, thus providing a range of scenarios and drills which ports can apply in their own way. In other words it provides “tips, tricks and ideas”, he said.
Separately, security awareness among port personnel is the subject of an accompanying annex to the handbook. A recent study conducted by the Port of Antwerp on security awareness among its personnel revealed shocking statistics. It was found that generally a “negative connotation with regards to security” prevails among port personnel. For example, some 73 percent of the personnel consider the security procedures’ main aim is to control and check the employees themselves.
Verhaegen said only 28 percent of dock works “know what the ISPS code is about”. Over half of surveyed said that they would not automatically deem it important enough to report a suspicious incident.
In addition to the manual, Verhaegen’s organisation is developing an innovative form of training for personnel – a “serious” interactive computer game to encourage its port personnel to understand the importance of reporting suspicious activity and the appropriate actions required. “Drills and exercises improve the alertness of the personnel,” he observed.
The game is structured around a virtual replica of the physical contours of a port and its secure dockside and depot areas. It presents a series of potential security-incident decision points for the players who have to choose the right action and/or personnel to notify. The product will be available on the website of the Port of Antwerp by the end of the month.
Whether this is due to the vigilance of port authorities or to the terrorists’ lack of awareness of how just how vulnerable these critical economic points really are across Europe is anyone’s guess….though port and harbour authorities will surely argue in favour of the former.
Nonetheless every effort toward improving the security of Europe’s ports and harbours counts. While training videos are a good tool, they are a “dime-a-dozen”. Antwerp’s handbook of tips and recommendations will probably prove, in the long run, to be the more valuable reference for the sector.