Port State Control Inspection: Civil Vs Criminal Procedures

Water is a precious resource and even though oceans cover nearly 3/4th of the surface of the earth, they should be protected from pollution. It is the responsibility of everyone including the marine community to ensure that the sea is kept protected from any type of hazards. Today we will study about  the Port State Control Inspection is also known as PSC inspection program in relation to such safety measures.

The aim of Port State Control inspection program is to ensure that the ship entering the jurisdictional waters of a country is complaint with all the regulations pertaining to safety of life at sea. The convention of safety of life at sea was started by the international convention on standards of training. All shipping companies of the world are supposed to follow these guidelines to ensure that the sea is protected and saved from harmful activities.

PSC Inspection

PSC Inspection

The Port State Control Inspection came from the department of transportation 1994 appropriations bill. This was designed to check that any merchant ship that is entering the waters of the United States is checked of any criminal or illegal activity. The merchant ships are required to show all the legal documents and papers that are required by the authority doing the checks. If there is any suspicion of some illegal activities then immediate action can be taken against the ship and its crew members.

Some consider Port State Control Inspection as just a check of the ships documents and legal papers. Well this is not true. In a Port State Control Inspection a complete check of the ship is done. The inspection includes checking for the radar equipment, oily water separator and the crew must provide documents that the ship is following the basic safety rules. If any minor deficiency is found, the ship will not be allowed inside the country unless these deficiencies are corrected.

The Port State Control Inspection has been there since long but since the 9/11 attacks the rules have become even stricter now. All foreign ship come prepared that irrespective of their nationality the ships will be checked and they will have to provide all the documents that are required under the Port State Control Inspection. There are special marine safety officers (MSO’s) who are appointed by the Port State Control Inspection. These officers are told to check the pollution level of the ships on a random basis. They are specially trained for this job.

This initiative by the Port State Control Inspection has reduced marine pollution to a considerable extent. There can be a fine imposed and also lead to criminal conviction if found guilty. The fine can run into millions of dollars. One interested point to note there is that the PSC personnel actively look out for a pipe known as “magic pipe” in secret terminology. This is an unofficial hose which dumps waste oil directly into the sea bypassing the oily water separater. Proper evidence is collected and presented in the court of law if such an arrangement in found on board the ship. The evidence collected by the MSO is very professional which ensures that the culprits are brought to justice.

The team that conducts Port State Control Inspection are well trained. They are provided with badges and guns. As soon as they enter any ship a lot of confusion is expected. This is exactly why they are trained to handle situations like these.

The Port State Control Inspection also has criminal investigators called CGIS. These agents interrogate the crew members. While they do so the MSO’s are also present with them. If any criminal activity is suspected a more detailed investigation is conducted. The crew members can be detained in local hotels for as long as one hundred and fifty days unless the whole investigation is done with. The record of these detentions has been as long as seven months. This can be a very painful experience for the crew members and their families.

It has been noted that the Port State Control Inspection generally creates a lot of chaos since many foreign ships that are new to the United States don’t understand the nature of the interrogation and as a result face unnecessary harassment. This was the case with the ship Valparaiso Star. A criminal case was put against it which was later proved false in the court of law. The language too becomes a big barrier. Many a times there are cases of lack of communication.

Looking at these confusions that often arise the Port State Control Inspection has decided that the crew members will be made aware of who the control inspectors are and who criminal inspectors are. A coast guard manual is given to the crew members so that they can understand what is expected from t hem. It has been clearly stated that a civil search cannot be done on the pretext of a criminal search. Both have to be done separately. The USCG must inform the crew members when the search is moving from a civil to a criminal one so that the crew can prepare accordingly.

With these new changes and regulations in place the Port State Control Inspection has become more effective and reliable. This has also considerably reduced the confusion that would generally be associates with these investigations in the past.

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