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Q&A: US-Bahamas Proliferation Security Initiative

Fact Sheet
Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC
August 11, 2008

Q&A: The United States and The Bahamas Proliferation Security Initiative Shipboarding Agreement

Question: What benefits do countries receive from signing a Proliferation Security Initiative Shipboarding Agreement?

Answer: The U.S.-Bahamas "Agreement on Cooperation to Suppress the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Their Delivery Systems, and Related Materials by Sea" will put into place procedures and identify points of contact to permit the inspection by either Party of vessels flying their flags suspected of transporting proliferation-related cargo. This agreement will promote the goal of the Proliferation Security Initiative - to stop shipments of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), their delivery systems, and related materials to and from states and non-state actors of proliferation concern. It will also serve to deter proliferators and help ensure that ships flying our flags will not become involved in the transport of proliferation-related cargo. The agreement will enhance the reputation of the Bahamas' ship registry as a flag of quality and thereby increase its attractiveness to legitimate international commercial enterprises.

Question: How many Proliferation Security Initiative shipboarding agreements has the United States signed?

Answer: This is the ninth bilateral shipboarding agreement the United States has signed under the auspices of the Proliferation Security Initiative. Taken together, the shipboarding agreements with the Bahamas, Liberia, Panama, the Marshall Islands, Belize, Cyprus, Croatia, Malta, and Mongolia cover a large portion of the world's cargo fleet, along with informal commitments among other PSI participating states to expedite any request made by each other to board and inspect a ship flying their flag that is suspected of transporting proliferation-related cargo.

Question: What is the significance of this agreement with the Bahamas?

Answer: The shipboarding agreement with the Bahamas is important because of the size of its flag registry. The Bahamas has the world's third largest flag registry of merchant ships, measured by gross tonnage, and serves as an open registry for ship owners from dozens of countries. (Open registries permit ships owned by an entity in another country to register in and fly the flag of the registry State). The Bahamas is demonstrating its continued commitment to nonproliferation and willingness to set an example for other states with large flag registries.

Question: What is the Proliferation Security Initiative?

Answer: The Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) is an informal effort among states around the world aimed at stopping trafficking of WMD, their delivery systems, and related materials to and from states and non-state actors of proliferation concern. The PSI is an innovative and proactive approach to preventing WMD proliferation that relies on cooperative actions by states that are consistent with national legal authorities and relevant international law and frameworks. More than 90 countries have endorsed the Proliferation Security Initiative and participate in its activities on a voluntary basis.

Question: Is this shipboarding agreement consistent with international law?

Answer: Yes. The PSI Statement of Interdiction Principles makes clear that all PSI activities are taken consistent with national legal authorities and relevant international law and frameworks.

This agreement strengthens the legal basis for the maritime interdiction of WMD-related items and conforms to both Parties' domestic legal authorities and international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The boarding procedures do not change existing international maritime law nor infringe upon the traditional principle of freedom of navigation.

The Protocol of 2005 to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (the 2005 SUA Protocol) adopted by the International Maritime Organization Diplomatic Conference in London on October 14, 2005, will, when it enters into force, create an international shipboarding regime based on flag state consent similar to agreements that the United States has concluded bilaterally as part of the PSI. The 2005 SUA Protocol shipboarding regime will provide an international legal framework to facilitate interdiction in international waters of WMD, their delivery systems, and related materials, as well as terrorist fugitives. The 2005 SUA Protocol is currently before the U.S. Senate for its advice and consent to ratification.

Question: How will this agreement be implemented?

Answer: The agreement establishes 24/7 points of contact for rapid communication in case of a suspect shipment. If a U.S. or Bahamas-flagged vessel is suspected of carrying proliferation-related cargo, either one of the Parties to this agreement can request of the other to confirm the nationality of the ship in question and authorize the boarding, search, and possible detention of the vessel and its cargo. A shipboarding request can be made and implemented by either Party. The agreement applies to flagged vessels of either Party located in international waters. The agreement does not apply to third-party vessels or to territorial waters.

Question: Where can we obtain the text of the shipboarding agreement?

Answer: Once the signed documents are processed, they will be posted to the State Department's Proliferation Security Initiative website at http://www.state.gov/t/isn/c12386.htm. Our other completed shipboarding agreements can also be viewed at this site.

2008/632
Released on August 11, 2008

ENDS

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