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Associated British Ports is the largest port operator in the UK. The 21 ports support 119,000 jobs and contribute £7.5 billion to the economy every year, handling £149 billion of trade. The business is diverse and includes bulk and container operations, vehicles, petrochemical, and cruises.
Access and control to Port Facilities in the UK are mandated through the International Ship and Port Security (ISPS) Code. This code was swiftly developed following the 9/11 attacks in New York. The ISPS Code is part of the Safety of Life at Sea Convention, known as SOLAS, which has been accepted by nearly every country.
In the UK, the port security measures fall under the UK Government Department for Transport who set requirements and regulate. We maintain close links with law enforcement and regularly test our capabilities. The level of security is highly dependent on the port operations being conducted. The lowest level security requirements generally relate to bulk cargo and the highest to passenger (PAX) operations, including international ferries and cruise operations. The cruise industry, in particular, is expanding significantly year-on-year. In 2019, 2 percent of cruise ships around the world carried over 4000 passengers. By 2026 these cruise ships will represent around 42 percent of the cruise market. Some of the largest ships now carry over 6000 passengers, and there are plans for even bigger ships. The Port of Southampton is Europe’s leading cruise turnaround port, seeing around 500 calls a year, with 2 million cruise passengers.
Every cruise call brings a significant security operation. Cruise ships generally require passengers to disembark and embark within a relatively short period. This results in a requirement to perform security procedures expeditiously to ensure that the ship sails on time. A typical cruise ship will be alongside for only 10 hours. In this period, the ship needs to disembark thousands of passengers plus crew (for large ships) and re-store provisions. The port is required to security screen every passenger and each member of the crew, plus baggage. Unlike the aviation industry, passengers are not restricted to the amount of baggage they bring. Often, each passenger will have several large suitcases and multiple items of hand luggage, all of which need to be screened before being allowed on the ship.
Whilst airports operate around the clock, the nature of cruise operations in the UK means this model does not work. Cruise security runs very much in peaks and troughs. Security screening standards vary by port, shipping line, and regulatory requirements. In some ports or with some shipping lines, not every passenger is even required to be screened. The Port of Southampton does operate a full screening service for all passengers and crew. On a quiet (non-cruise) day, the port only requires less number of staff to provide the mandated level of security (less than 15). On busy days, the port requires over 400 security staff to operate and remain compliant. This is further complicated by seasonal variations. The month of February may see as little as six or seven cruise ships, whereas May or August might each see 60-70. Southampton currently has four designated world-class Cruise Terminals. One is purposebuilt and the others are converted into buildings. There is also the capacity to build an additional two temporary terminals, meaning that the port can deliver six turn-around cruises in a day. When these terminals are not being used for cruise operations, they can be used for other purposes, and there is no requirement for screening, and many others .
All of these factors bring with them significant challenges. Cruise terminals need to be swept and secured before a ship’s arrival. They then need to be staffed with trained security personnel, who are prepared to work irregular hours at short notice. Maintaining hundreds of fulltime staff is simply not required. Therefore, the operation is heavily reliant on a third-party security contractor to recruit, train, and provide this staff for the cruise operation. National security companies have the ability to draw on large pools of staff and deliver this service; however, there is always a risk associated with contracting security as any compliance risk remains with the port, and any poor performance or service delivery will be viewed negatively by passengers or cruise lines.
There are no simple answers to many of these issues; however, communications are, as always, the key. Dialogue with customers, a pro-active and professional relationship with regulators, and a partnership with sub-contracted security staff will always pay huge dividends.
The expansion of the industry, coupled with consumer demand, will always be the main driving force. However, the industry must always ensure that the safety and security of passengers and crew remain the primary concern. Terrorist related activity around the world is always evolving. The maritime industry, in particular, the cruise sector, must remain alert to this threat, and port/ship security must continue to keep pace with it. The industry must be seen as being security conscious, fully compliant, and constantly challenge the quality of its own security delivery to prevent it from becoming a target.