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Following terrorist threats, a new French law strengthens maritime security mechanisms

News / / Following terrorist threats, a new French law strengthens maritime security mechanisms

The law n°2016-816 aimed at enhancing “blue growth” has been enacted on 20 June 2016 to adapt the French regulations to the new safety and economic issues in the maritime world. At the time of the generalisation of terrorist threats, lawmakers have notably reinforced the rules regarding maritime security.

Maritime security has to be distinguished from maritime safety. The purpose of the latter is to ensure protection against natural risks or risks raised by maritime navigation (such as collision or groundings). Maritime safety fights criminal infractions occurring at sea: piracy, drug trafficking, trading slaves and terrorism.

To this extent, a key measure of the law of 20 June 2016 is the possibility for a ship owner to hire a security company for the protection of its ships (Entreprise Privée de Protection de Navires, EPPN). Ship owners were previously authorised to require the services of such companies for one purpose only: the fight against piracy.

Although these two concepts (terrorism and piracy) seem to be related, they are distinguishable.

Piracy is defined by international law1 as the commitment of “acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or private aircraft”.

Terrorism is different since it implies membership of an organisation with a political objective. 

Terrorism is criminalised by the French Criminal Code2. The definition sets out intentional acts, committed by an individual or a collective organisation, seriously disturbing the public order. 

Apart from this general definition, the Criminal Code particularly targets certain behaviour defined as acts of terrorism. Among them, some are directly related to  maritime issues, such as ship hijacking, voluntary contamination of waters (including territorial waters) or the fact that a person learns how to sail a vessel in order to perform a terrorist act.

In addition, and outside the qualification of terrorism, it has to be noted that the Criminal Code punishes autonomously ship hijacking.

The private protection of ships scheme as laid down by the law of 20 June 2016 is not limited to certain geographical areas as it is the case for piracy. Indeed, piracy zones are known, which has permitted the delimitation of the geographical scope of EPPNs to certain zones, that is to say places off West Africa, in the Indian ocean and the Red sea. 

Conversely, terrorism may occur anywhere. 

That is why the new law permits ships flying under the French flag recourse to EPPN’s wherever they want, provided that it is in high seas3

However, it is forbidden to hire an EPPN within territorial waters, in order to respect State sovereignty4

All the ships flying under French flag are concerned. A decree had nevertheless excluded pleasure vessels from the scope of intervention of EPPN’s (apart from ships over 24 metres long under specific conditions) as well as passenger vessels when they do not carry any passengers.

As for the fight against piracy, EPPN agents shall be authorised to use force and to bear fire arms and ammunition. They will be placed under the direction of the captain, who is solely in command on board. 

The law against piracy already sets out precisely the conditions to be fulfilled mandatorily for EPPN’s. They have to obtain a licence and their agents are expected to obtain a professional card delivered by the CNAPS (National Centre for Private Security Activities)

The decrees aimed at implementing the technical aspects of the activity of the EPPN’s regarding the fight against terrorism are currently being prepared (training of agents, precise definitions about the role of each, authorised equipment…).

Moreover, it shall be noted that the law n°2016-816 contains other provisions to strengthen the French set of rules regarding maritime security.

Thus, regarding domestic and international passenger transport, the carrier is now able to refuse the boarding of any person refusing visual inspections, luggage searches or security pat downs. Furthermore, any person whose infringements of these rules could disturb the  public order or endanger people’s safety can be forbidden to board. 

Finally, the provisions of the internal safety Code dealing with the processing of data collected during international travel, existing in the field of air transport, have been extended to maritime transport5


1  Convention of Montego Bay, Article 1012  French Criminal Code, Articles 421-1 to 422-7
3  Article L. 5442-1 of the French Transports Code
4  Article L. 5442-1 and followings of the French Transports Code

5  Article L. 232-1 of the internal safety Code

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