On 29 April 2010, the Republic of Nauru helped improve general maritime security by depositing with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) its instrument of ratification of the 2005 Protocol to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA), 1988. This action will cause the amended (by the Protocol) SUA Convention to enter into force on July 28, 2010, in accordance with the terms of the Protocol calling for entry into force 90 days after the deposit of the 12th ratification or accession document, which Nauru provided.
The original SUA Convention, negotiated in response to the terrorist hijacking of the Achille Lauro in 1985, mainly covered acts (using force or intimidation) against ships, persons onboard, and cargo, and provided for universal jurisdiction of the offenders without regard for the juridical nature of the waters wherein the offenses occurred. The 2005 Protocol, pushed by the US in the wake of 9/11, establishes a variety of new offenses mostly related to unlawful carriage, use, or operation of explosive or radioactive materials or biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons aboard vessels. It also covers cooperation and procedures for boarding vessels of states party to the amended Convention by other states party, upon suspicion there has been, or is about to be, a violation of the Convention.
The IMO Secretary General welcomed Nauru’s ratification as a boost in the fight against terrorism, saying “[i]n these uncertain times, when terrorism has tragically succeeded in shaping the political agenda worldwide, it is vital that the international community has in place a framework for legal action capable of ensuring that suspected terrorists are apprehended and brought to trial wherever in the world they may seek to hide. In the maritime domain, we now have a much-strengthened framework with the imminent coming into force of these important IMO instruments.” (By bringing the 2005 SUA Protocol into force, Nauru’s ratification also had the effect of bringing into force the 2005 Protocol to the 1988 Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf.)1
While I agree with the Secretary General that it’s nice to have both the 2005 Protocols in force, most of their provisions only apply as between states party to them. The original SUA Convention has been ratified by over 140 countries; the 1988 Offshore Platforms Protocol has been adopted almost as widely. The two 2005 Protocols will not have much real value until they have been adopted by the major maritime powers and the countries with large fleets of merchant shipping under their flags.
The report of Nauru’s deposit of its instrument of ratification and the Secretary General’s comments may be found at http://www.imo.org/ under the Newsroom tab by clicking on “Press Briefings” and then “2010.”
1 The 2005 Offshore Platforms Protocol creates similar new terrorist offense for platforms. Although requiring fewer ratifications, it could not come into effect until the 2005 Protocol to the basic SUA Convention was in force.