Effective Implementation of the 2005 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation

By Kraska, James | Naval War College Review, Winter 2017 | Go to article overview

Effective Implementation of the 2005 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation


Kraska, James, Naval War College Review


In 2005, the 167 member states of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted the 2005 Protocol to the 1988 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA). The resulting 2005 SUA Convention is a comprehensive treaty on maritime security that streamlines and integrates efforts to prevent and disrupt maritime terrorism. In the decade since its adoption, however, many states have not acceded to the new treaty, and most of those that have done so have not taken the steps the treaty requires to implement it effectively, even though the need to do so is perhaps even greater today. This article provides a road map for implementation of the 2005 SUA Convention to realize the vision for an effective global regime to combat maritime terrorism.

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the fear was palpable that there would be follow-on catastrophic attacks in the maritime domain. Suddenly states worried about the global marine transportation system, especially its vulnerability to terrorism. Ships could be used to smuggle weapons of mass destruction or persons, conduct attacks on port infrastructure or bridges to paralyze commerce, or attack oil and liquefied natural gas tankers to attempt to produce large secondary explosions. The most recent manifestation of this heightened risk is from the Islamic State, which has examined the feasibility of mass-casualty attacks against cruise ships.1

In response, the member states and secretariat of the IMO developed a slate of initiatives to counter these threats, including amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) that emerged as the 2002 International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code.2 The ISPS Code attempted to develop a culture of threat-based security throughout the maritime cargo supply chain on which the global economy depends.3

The ISPS Code is a government-industry partnership designed to make the commercial shipping industry a less attractive, or at least a more difficult, target for maritime crime. The code entered into force in 2004. Simultaneously, states took action to facilitate prevention or disruption of terrorist attacks against ships and fixed platforms on the continental shelf. In November 2001, the IMO Assembly adopted Resolution A.924(22) as a response to UN Security Council Resolution 1373 (2001), which decided that states shall take the necessary steps to prevent the commission of terrorist acts.4

Resolution A.924(22) called for a review of maritime security architecture and prevention of maritime terrorism.5 The resolution requested that the IMO Legal Committee undertake a study to determine appropriate updates to the IMO Circular on Passenger Ferry Security as well as the SUA and its Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf.6 Thereafter, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1540 (2004), which recognized the urgent need to take more effective measures to prevent the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and their means of delivery.7

The IMO study mandated by A.924(22) unfolded over six sessions plus several intersessional meetings from 2002 to 2005, and culminated in two draft protocols that were adopted at a diplomatic conference at IMO in October 2005. The 2005 Protocol built a comprehensive regime for counterterrorism at sea and maritime security, and the new instrument that includes the 1988 Convention as amended by the 2005 Protocol is referred to as the 2005 SUA Convention.

The 2005 SUA Convention entered into force in 2010. Now that more than ten years have passed since its adoption and more than five years since its entry into force, it may be beneficial to assess how far we have come and, more importantly, to consider how emerging threats stack up against the existing regimes. In particular, implementation of the 2005 SUA Convention has been lackadaisical, and it is unclear how well the treaty will contend with current trends and emerging threats, which include unmanned systems, lasers, and maritime cyber attacks. …

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