Needed: Revisions to Maritime Response Standard

The principle of all successful efforts is to try to do not what is absolutely the best, but what is easily within our power, and suited for our temperament and condition.

~ John Ruskin

According to Scotland’s Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, the capture of Al Qaeda’s chief of naval operations, Ahmad Belai Al Neshari, has helped reveal the extent of the organization’s maritime ambitions. Al Neshari was found carrying a 180-page dossier listing maritime targets of opportunity, such as large cruise liners sailing from Western ports. The Centre claims that Al Qaeda has produced a naval manual filled with detailed instructions about where and how to attack vessels, employ limpet mines, fire rockets or rocket-propelled grenades from high-speed craft, and turn liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers into floating bombs.

The Centre’s director, Magnus Ranstorp, says that the manual also includes instructions on how to detonate various small and medium-sized craft positioned alongside large ships or in ports where there are petroleum or gas storage areas that could explode and produce catastrophic results.

If a maritime terrorism incident happens, local firefighters are expected to use NFPA 1405 (A Guide for Land-Based Fire Fighters Who Respond to Marine Vessel Fires) as a baseline for developing their response. However, the 1405 standard, developed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), does not address the core competencies firefighters need when responding to incidents in which radiological, chemical, or biological agents have been released, or where the detonation of an improvised explosive device (IED), such as a small craft loaded with explosives, has released toxic industrial chemicals (TICs) or toxic industrial materials (TIMs) already aboard the ship being attacked.

Although fire-fighting tactics and strategies used aboard vessels are generally similar to those used in fighting structural fires ashore, many aspects of marine fire-fighting warrant special attention, if only because of the unique environment that firefighters will encounter aboard a vessel after an attack in which one or more weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) have been used.

One of the many goals of those helping marine firefighters is to identify ways to improve their preparedness for terrorist attacks and/or other major disasters, and to cope with other emergencies both effectively and efficiently – by, for example, using national standards considered essential to protection of the maritime front of homeland security. To do all this will require a major collaborative effort focused on planning, training, and exercises. The latter will greatly assist in the development and distribution of lessons learned to all stakeholders, and also help in the sharing of best-practices information as well as the development of new training standards to be incorporated in future versions of NFPA 1405. But the understanding does not stop there; it also requires an awareness of the adversary’s doctrine, tactics, and current and probable courses of action, along with detailed information about the physical and environmental characteristics of local port areas to identify the gaps in knowledge that are used to define the foundation for standard.

A Practice Cruise in the Malacca Straits

“Al Qaeda has a naval manual which specifies classes of ships, where to attack them, and how much explosives to use – they are very precise in their modus operandi.”

~ Magnus Ranstorp

Existing concerns about possible terrorist threats to maritime security were significantly increased by two incidents that took place last year. In March 2004, armed men not only captured and robbed the Indonesian chemical tanker Dewi Madrim in the Malacca Straits, but they also steered the ship through the straits for an hour. That unexpected cruise, according to Dominic Armstrong, a maritime expert for Aegis Security in London, may have been a training mission for the terrorists. In another incident, terrorists seized an oil tanker near Malaysia in August 2004, and took three crewmembers hostage. The $100,000 ransom that was paid went not to pirates but to the Free Aceh Movement, according to government officials in Malaysia.

Maritime terrorist operations such as these have made federal, state, and local governments increasingly aware of the need for re-visiting, and quickly revising, the NFPA standard. However, because several states already have developed their own standards for marine firefighting, it may be difficult to capture the true nature of the type and variety of responses needed, and the possible effects on those responding. In addition, it may be even more difficult to determine the level of pre-planning necessary.

On 29 October 2001, President Bush issued the first of a new series of Homeland Security Presidential Directives (HSPDs) governing the full spectrum of domestic preparedness. Subsequent directives (HSPDs 5, 7, 8, and 13) spell out many of the initial steps needed to implement state and local port planning, training, and exercise requirements. Such implementation should allow jurisdictions to define what needs to be done to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from a major maritime event.

The Threat Most Likely

The 2005 Homeland Security Port Security Grant program developed by DHS/ODP (the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Domestic Preparedness) establishes many program parameters. What is particularly significant is that the Port Grant program guidelines make it abundantly clear that the IED maritime threat ranks near the top of the list of the most likely WMD scenarios. Curiously, though, the tasks associated with the IED scenario do not explicitly cover the elements in which marine firefighters will be required to operate – more specifically, an environment that includes not just fire but also smoke containing multiple hazardous chemicals as well as a variety of TIC vapors and liquids.

Any approach derived from local planning, training, and exercises should be used to help local responding jurisdictions develop a more specialized response standard. In turn, DHS/ODP and the Port Security Grant program should provide state and local participants with ways both to participate in the development of voluntary consensus standards and to provide solutions to their collaborative efforts – using their lessons learned to improve later versions of NFPA 1405.

The first revised version of NFPA 1405, due in 2006, must meet numerous imperatives. First, it must engage full stakeholder participation to adequately prepare the manual’s end-users for WMD and IED attacks. It also must demonstrate, anticipating all possibilities, how an integrated response among the services should look, and it should recommend the protection needed for assigned responders to cope with an adversary’s use of WMD(s) within the maritime environment. In addition, NFPA 1405 should be in alignment with numerous other related standards that already have been developed and distributed.

Surprise attacks succeed when a government or alliance fails to anticipate the possibilities. In the most successful, and most damaging, maritime attack against the United States – the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 – the results were sudden, concentrated, and dramatic. The failure, however, was cumulative, widespread, and familiar. The nation’s current and future maritime firefighting responders need an operational framework and a standard that embodies the necessary disciplines and operational principles required to assist field incident commanders and their responders when conducting WMD response operations.

Ashley Moore

Ashley Moore



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