ISPS Code: Opportunities for new technology



Michael Robertson, Douglas-Westwood, Canterbury, UK


The new edition of ‘The World Maritime Security Report,’ by market analysts Douglas-Westwood, describes the developments in maritime security from the end of the 19th century to the current position and suggests possible trends for the future, as well as costing for the implementation of the current international security requirements for vessels and ports.


In 1985 the Achille Lauro was seized by Palestinian terrorists who had been planning to carry out an operation against Israel. It was yet another failed terrorist attack on Israel but became a major maritime terrorist incident, in that it was the first time a cruise liner had been hijacked and a hostage executed. Furthermore, the incident demonstrated that the maritime industry as a whole was lacking in basic security awareness and procedures.

Following this incident, many nations instigated legislation to protect passenger vessels and the UN Agency and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), realised that the Safety of Life At Sea (SOLAS) needed to address the terrorist issue and introduced international legislation aimed at passenger vessels. However, the majority of the maritime industry remained somnolent.

All this changed with the hijacking of four airliners and the destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York on 11th September, 2001. The airline industry was well aware of the threat to their assets and had undertaken numerous security
measures to protect themselves and their passengers. However,
their measures were not enough.

The US, in particular, recognised that there was a glaring shortfall in security with regard to the maritime industry. The US pressured the IMO and an international agreement was reached on the introduction of the International Ship and Port Security (ISPS) Code in December 2002. The measures described within this Code were to be implemented by 1st July, 2004.

The ISPS Code

The Code was introduced following a terrorist incident, yet the terrorist threat to the maritime industry is generally not deemed to be high and where attacks have been carried out (USS Cole in Aden (Oct 2000), VLCC Limburg off Yemen (Oct 2002), Port of Ashdod, Israel (Mar 2004) – to name some of the more significant attacks)  have, in terrorist eyes, not been successful. The vessels did not sink and the port was not destroyed.

However the maritime industry is viewed as vulnerable and the US has particular concerns as to the potential targets of terrorist attacks. The Code addresses the majority of the world maritime fleet and even more significantly the security of ports, particularly the interface between a vessel and a port and the port facility.

The Code identifies the need to undertake a risk assessment of a vessel and/or port facility, whereby the vulnerabilities of the vessel or port facility are identified. Once the assessment is completed a security plan, incorporating security measures, is produced and implemented in each vessel and/or port facility. The Code, inrespect of facilities and individuals, recognises that there is a corporate responsibility for the security of a vessel or port.

Security measures

A number of security measures are identified within the Code but they can be encapsulated by a single principle – the control of access to the vessel or port facility. This is controlling the access of personnel, vehicles, cargo and equipment to the vessel or port facility, i.e. allowing in that which has a legitimate reason for being there and preventing that which does not.

The Code does not state how control of access is to be implemented or gives detailed requirements for physical measures but gives general guidance on what is required. It is a well known fact that efficient security cannot rely solely on one particular measure and that an effective system is based on a number of interlocking measures which complement and support each other.

These measures can be proactive – where a particular measure attempts to catch the interloper before access is gained, e.g. vetting of employees – or reactive where the measure forces an interloper to reveal their intentions, e.g. a perimeter fence surrounding a site forces the interloper to climb the fence to gain access.

The use of additional measures can enhance security, thus a pass and permit system reinforces the vetting of employees, while lighting and alarms can improve the effectiveness of a perimeter fence.

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