Assessing climate risk at ports

Weynand Haitjema
Weynand Haitjema
Workers play a critical role in port security. They are a company’s most important asset, but are also potentially one of the biggest risks to security
Workers play a critical role in port security. They are a company’s most important asset, but are also potentially one of the biggest risks to security
All actions and reactions should be measured in terms of potential risk, whether that’s down to natural disaster, accident or a man-made occurrence
All actions and reactions should be measured in terms of potential risk, whether that’s down to natural disaster, accident or a man-made occurrence
In a port or terminal, the main channel directly linked to open sea is most at risk as it is directly affected by tides and adverse weather
In a port or terminal, the main channel directly linked to open sea is most at risk as it is directly affected by tides and adverse weather
Industry Database

First, the bad news, assessing risk within ports and terminals is extremely challenging thanks to multiple factors in play. It’s not just the possibility of accidental pollution but the added risk from natural disasters such as flooding and storms By Weynand Haitjema, Pinkerton regionional managing director, EMEA

There are so many stakeholders involved in the effective operation of a port or terminal that it is impossible to carry out a single risk assessment to cover all scenarios. Pollution is most likely to originate from a vessel or perhaps a dockside waste treatment plant, but its impact is very much on the waterways and, if not contained in time, on the open water and associated wildlife and coastlines.

Natural disasters are nobody’s fault but the responsibility for clean-up and post-event operations lies within the government’s purview. Meantime, blame for contamination of the water supply on a ship is most likely to work up the chain of command to the operator, regardless of how the contamination occurred.

Now the good news: There are steps that can be taken to minimise risk in most areas. Assessing risk, creating incident response plans, increasing checks for pollution, screening critical workers, raising awareness of potential hazards and encouraging vigilance are important actions that will help to minimise risk of all types and deal more effectively with any damaging issues.

It’s all natural

Here’s some more good news: The likelihood of a hurricane or damaging storm affecting a UK port is minimal. That said, there are famous instances of our weather forecasters misjudging an unusual event and thus leaving the majority of the population reeling (step forward luckless forecaster Michael Fish who is now known for dismissing the potential for a large storm to affect the UK, just before the devastating weather events of October 1987). It would be dangerous to assume that just because the risk is small, there is no need to mitigate against it.

After years of studies, assessing the risk of a natural disaster is mostly a question of mathematics and analysing statistics.Damaging storms may be relatively infrequent in the UK but it is now an indisputable fact that water levels are rising across the world: globally our oceans are now on average about eight inches higher than a century ago1 and island nations are most at risk from coastal erosion and flood damage.

The impact is mostly borne by structures – in the case of storms or flooding those nearest to water and, of course, on water. In a port or terminal, the main channel directly linked to open sea is most at risk as it is directly affected by tides and adverse weather. Connecting channels will be impacted to a lesser extent and of course the docks are much higher to facilitate loading and unloading, thus relatively low risk.

Regardless of the level of risk the authorities should have a plan in place. The UK is very dependent upon the sea for trading, since around 96%of all import/export trade enters the UK via its ports and the sector contributes billions to the country’s GDP. These facts should carry much weight when evaluating the risk from natural events.

Bad combination

All ports and terminals are understandably concerned about oil and chemical spills. The IMO implements strict rules and there are very heavy penalties for even small spills which can cause serious problems in enclosed channels. These spills have the potential to spread very quickly, depending on weather conditions and tides, to the open seas with the associated consequences.

A quick reaction to a spill could facilitate containment and allow clean-up, but closing a channel would have a serious impact on commerce and other operations. Floating barriers are obstacles with limited advantages in a narrow channel environment.

There is no magic solution but there are measures that port authorities can either implement themselves or encourage on ships. For example, are the crews on visiting ships aware of the consequences of an oil spill? They may not see the importance of reporting a small spill of heavy oil, the worst pollutant, so raising awareness is very important.

All eyes

Visually checking vessels for leaks and other issues as they enter ports is another way to mitigate port risks. A very slow seepage of oil may go unnoticed in the ocean but, once in enclosed waters for an extended period of time, can become vastly more serious. Since ships are not allowed into port without a pilot aboard, it’s also worth extending the pilot’s responsibilities to include a check for leakage.

A much less likely, but potentially more devastating, scenario would be the breach of an oil or gas tanker, either accidental or as part of an attack. Whilst human casualties may be minimal from an explosion, for example, the impact on the economy via the disruption to operations, pollution and long term environmental damage could be catastrophic for the international operations of multiple companies and organisations.

It is therefore vital that the key stakeholders within any port or terminal liaise to create an incident plan, usually in conjunction with a third party risk management specialist who can assess and help mitigate against all the scenarios that might possibly occur.

Waste not want not

Portside ancillary operations such as LNG facilities, recycling and waste treatment plants are a different matter when it comes to risk assessment. The facility owner is ultimately responsible for safety but, as the consequences of any breach are so far-reaching and the potential impact much broader, there should be additional precautions in place.

When validating such a facility, the licensing authorities should carry out a risk assessment for every aspect of its operation. The owner could also commission their own assessment to help fast-track the process if required. This should include ground checks, proximity to water and all security risks, with the objective of preventing potential leakage into any matter including water. Such assessments should also be re-commissioned with every planned change to or development of such a facility to ensure risk is minimised.

Staff on side?

Whether it’s on a ship or in a port or terminal, having staff on side is key to smooth operations. For example, reliable crane operators are vital as they undertake precision work when loading and unloading cargo. A slip could result in waterway pollution – not to mention the loss of significant cargo and thus revenue.

Workers play a critical role in port security. They are a company’s most important asset, but are also potentially one of the biggest risks to security. Comprehensive screening processes will help to root out potentially rogue or disgruntled staff members who could be tempted by ideology, fraud, theft or bribery to attack and disrupt vulnerable cargo routes.

Likewise, an incident of water contamination on a cruise ship could be an accident or potentially a deliberate attack by a member of staff – saltwater regeneration tanks are especially vulnerable. When the health of up to 5000 passengers and the reputation of an operator is at stake, it’s worth considering how in-depth staff screening might reduce the risk.

People can get very creative when they are trying to hide their backgrounds: A very common trick is not to mention a past name. In many countries, court records are stored by name, so you might not trace a previous criminal conviction. A vetting agency will delve deeper into an individual’s past through checks on a social security number, ID or passport number, which will provide more information on potential aliases.

Be prepared!

The IMO Shipping Regulations are extremely wide-ranging and cover many areas of risk related to the marine environment. However, port security officers and other security staff do have additional resources at their disposal to minimise potential risk on their watch – not least of which is co-operation and co-ordination between all relevant parties.

All actions and reactions should be measured in terms of potential risk, whether that’s down to natural disaster, accident or a man-made occurrence. Planning is key for every possibility, as even the smallest risk warrants assessment and a relevant, robust incident response plan.

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