Tightening the loop: Recommended methods of perimeter security for seaports



Magal S3, Yehud, Israel.


Need for port security

The terror attacks of September 11 raised global awareness about terrorism and its impact on the world economy. The potential to ship weapons, chemical material and ‘dirty bombs’ into unsuspecting harbors has become a major threat to the global community. Governments around they have realized that the terror organizations – in their attempt to disrupt globalization and modernization – regard trade, open seas and ports as high-value targets. However, due to the complexity of today’s trade processes and practices, countries have to come to realize that securing the entry point alone is insufficient; the entire supply chain must be secured – beginning with seaports – as they often represent the weakest point in the chain. In addition, ports face an added level  of threat with the continued rise of criminal activity. In light of these risks, combined with the inherent difficulties in securing such facilities, the challenge of port security has become evident.

Inherent vulnerabilities

Mainly due to its topography, ports represent a major challenge in border security. An additional complexity is the large number of interconnected facilities and their operations including bridges, dams, dock infrastructure, hazardous material depots, pipelines, and many other critical assets that may be an enemy target. Furthermore, there is a high volume of foreign vessel, truck and rail traffic to and from these sensitive seaside areas, with significant numbers of passengers passing through on a daily basis.


A decade after 9/11 and amid political instability in many regions, worldwide security measures are being stretched to the limit, with terrorists becoming far more sophisticated in their attempts to penetrate foreign borders. From bombs in sneakers to explosives sewn to animals, terrorists continue to take advantage of any security gap that will allow them to infiltrate and wreak havoc on the global community.

The security vulnerabilities of seaports and maritime operations have not escaped the attention of terrorist groups. The Al-Qaida chief operator – Abd al Rahim al Nashiri – developed a strategy to attack western shipping targets when he was captured in 2002. Furthermore, the possibility of smuggling a ‘dirty bomb’ via a seaport in order to contaminate a Western city with radioactive material is a real fear. In fact, over the years there have been a number of attempted and successful terror attacks against seaports and maritime operations, as shown in Table 1.

Criminal activity

Organized crime is well-established in many ports. Criminal activity, from smuggling to petty theft, continues undeterred due to the absence of collective supervision and governance. An additional obstacle is the pressure to accelerate the handling of cargo and reduce costs, leading to the omission of various precautions and inevitably compromising port security. These challenges illustrate the critical importance of implementing the appropriate local safety measures in the context of securing global maritime transport.

ISPS code

To address the issue of seaport safety on a global scale, the International Maritime Organiz ation (IMO) – at the behest of the United States – instituted the International Ship and Port Security (ISPS) Code in December 2002. The code is a comprehensive set of measures and requirements aimed at enhancing the security of ships and port facilities around the globe. The ISPS code offers a series of guidelines to governments, port authorities and shipping companies in order to meet these requirements.

The code was quickly adopted by the international convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) as countries and governments realized that secure ports directly benefit their economies.

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