Very few ports around the world have complied with tough new "anti-terror" laws due to take effect on 1 July, an expert working for the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has warned.
Frank Wall, a consultant with the United Nations maritime body, told a security seminar on Monday that the majority of some 55,000 ships operating worldwide are on their way to complying with the IMO security measures.
But only 34 of an estimated 15,000 ports worldwide have approved security plans, he said. The rules, known as the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code, are required for all ports, oil and gas terminals and merchant ships that engage in international trade.
Singapore has recently warned of the need to tighten security along the busy Malacca Strait as it fears tankers may be hijacked and turned it into a floating bombs.
Thirty percent of the world's trade and 80% of Japan's crude oil is transported through the Straits, a narrow corridor between Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.
"We know less about ports than we do about ships. We have less information about ports partly because countries are not putting out the information," Wall said.
"I think basically because the focus initially was seen on ships, the message didn't get down to port facilities as fast as it should have," said Wall, who was formerly the head of shipping policy at the United Kingdom's Department for Transport.
"We know less about ports than we do about ships. We have less information about ports partly because countries are not putting out the information"
A consultant with the United Nations maritime body
Wall said some countries are holding back information on port compliance levels until they have the complete data while others, like the United Kingdom, with its involvement in Iraq, are not putting out lists of non-compliant ports for security reasons.
He added some countries do not have the necessary legislation in place, while others have not even appointed the authority responsible for port facility security.
"We are worried but we haven't got the information to say how worried," Wall said, but added that more data on the compliance of ports may be available by mid-June.
IMO Secretary-General Efthimios Mitropoulos, who visited Singapore last week, said statistics from 35 governments with 5578 port facilities, showed only about 23% have submitted security plans. Only 301 have been approved.
Singapore, the world's largest container trans-shipment hub, has said its port facilities and more than 90% of Singapore-flagged vessels comply with the IMO code.