Analysing threats, policies and solutions in port security


Dr Angela Carpenter, visiting researcher, University of Leeds, United Kingdom



Port and harbour security became an issue of growing concern in the wake of the September 2001 (9/11) attacks on the US, the attacks on the naval destroyers USS The Sullivans and USS Cole while tied up in the Port of Aden in Yemen in 2000, and the French oil tanker Limberg in 2002. Prior to these attacks the main focus of port security was often directed at landside threats such as the theft of cargo from containers, warehouses, or ships berthed in port. Securing perimeter fencing to prevent thieves from accessing the port area including warehouses was often the main concern, particularly in ports adjacent to urban areas. Similarly, there is potential for undocumented migrants to enter a port and attempt to stow away on ships, in containers or in trucks parked in the port area.

International policy response to 9/11 attacks

In the wake of 9/11 international measures were introduced by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to provide greater protection from potential terrorist attacks on ports and on the ships using them. These measures included the International Ship and Port Facility (ISPS) codei, a set of measures introduced in 2002 under chapter XI-2 of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Seaii. This establishes mandatory requirements on both ships and ports to enhance maritime security. Under the code, ports are required to have a port facility security assessment conducted by a recognised security organisation, which examines the physical security of the port, its structural integrity, personnel protection and also transport infrastructure such as access points for road or rail transport. Having identified potential security threats, a port facility security officer is responsible for maintaining a security plan for the port covering aspects such as who can access the port, how to identify individuals in the port area, and how to ensure the physical security of the port, including its buildings and infrastructure, from land and from sea. The security plan should also identify the relevant agencies to be contacted in the event of different types of security breach (local police, immigration officials, security forces or the military for example). In 2003, a code on practice in port security was introduced by the IMO and the International Labour Organizationiii and this document outlines the security requirements placed on ports.

Container security initiative

Subsequent to the 9/11 attacks, the US introduced its container security initiative (CSI) in 2002 (see US Customs and Border Protectioniv). This required pre-screening of all containers destined for the US from participating ports. These CSI operational ports include many of the largest container ports by volume of cargo, and from around the globe. The three main elements of the CSI are identifying high risk containers that pose a potential risk from terrorists, screening them before they depart for the US, and using technology to conduct that screening without causing any delays in the transport of the cargo. Screening by manual inspection, with the contents of a container emptied and examined by hand or even disassembled, is the most common way of inspecting containers for contraband goods, while canine patrols may also be used to identify drugs or explosives. However, CSI ports have a range of non-intrusive methods available to screen a container including x-ray or gamma scanners to generate an image of the contents and identify whether any additional searches are needed, and also radiation detection devices to identify any radiological hazard. The result is that far fewer containers need inspecting manually and ships can be loaded more quickly. While expensive in terms of initial cost, such technology can prove a cost-effective investment towards improved security and faster throughput of containers.

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