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An Overview Of The MARSEC Security & Its Domain In The Maritime Industry

Are you interested in MARSEC? If you want to protect maritime assets and operations from threats and risks, consider exploring this field further. In this article, we discover what Marsec security is, why it matters, and what are some of the best practices and innovations in this sector.

Are you curious about Marsec security?

What is Marsec security? It is a term that refers to the security measures and regulations that apply to the maritime industry in the United States. MARSEC stands for Maritime Security, a system of alert levels and corresponding actions designed to prevent and respond to potential threats to the marine transportation system.

Marsec security is a vital and dynamic field that requires constant vigilance and adaptation. Whether you are a shipowner, operator, crew member, or regulator, you have a role to play in ensuring the safety and security of maritime activities. You can also pursue a career in Marsec security by acquiring relevant knowledge and skills.

What are MARSEC Levels?

The Coast Guard uses a three-tiered Maritime Security (MARSEC) Level system to communicate pre-planned, scalable actions for credible threats to the Coast Guard and our maritime industry partners. The MARSEC Levels are,

  • MARSEC Level 1
  • MARSEC Level 2
  • MARSEC Level 3

MARSEC Level 1

Vessels, Coast Guard-regulated facilities inside the U.S., and the Coast Guard itself always maintain minimum appropriate security measures at this default level. This level generally applies in the absence of a National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) Alert or when the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard determines that the Alert does not apply to the Marine Transportation System.

MARSEC Level 2

Vessels, Coast Guard-regulated facilities inside the U.S., and the Coast Guard itself maintain appropriate additional protective security measures for some time at this level due to the heightened risk of a transportation security incident. An NTAS Alert could cause this level to go off that applies to the maritime sector or other specific intelligence or information indicating an increased threat.

MARSEC Level 3

At this level, additional targeted protective security measures must be kept in place for a brief period when a transportation security event is likely, impending, or has already happened, even if it is impossible to pinpoint the exact target. An NTAS Alert could signal the start of this level, indicating an imminent threat or attack or by other credible evidence of an impending or ongoing attack.

The MARSEC Levels apply to vessels, Coast Guard-regulated facilities inside the U.S., and the Coast Guard itself. Based on the proportional risk, the U.S. Coast Guard Commandant can modify MARSEC levels, any maritime nexus, and/or consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security.

MARSEC Directives

In addition to MARSEC Levels, the Coast Guard may also issue MARSEC Directives, instructions issued by the Commandant, or their delegate, mandating specific security measures for vessels and facilities involved in a transportation security incident.

The Commandant or their delegate gives MARSEC Directives when there is a need for immediate implementation of enhanced security measures beyond those required by existing regulations or plans. For example, after the 9/11 attacks, several MARSEC Directives were issued requiring increased screening procedures, access control measures, escort requirements, etc.

Depending on their content and sensitivity, the Coast Guard classifies MARSEC Directives as either For Official Use Only (FOUO) or Sensitive Security Information (SSI). They are distributed only to those with a need-to-know basis and must comply with them. Failure to comply with a MARSEC Directive may result in civil penalties or other enforcement actions by the Coast Guard.

Why is MARSEC Security Important?

MARSEC Security is important because it aims to protect one of the most vital U.S. economy and national security sectors: the marine transportation system. The marine transportation system comprises the ports, ships, infrastructure, and other essential components situated on or close to the waters under American control. It supports trade, commerce, tourism, recreation, national defense, and emergency response operations.

Did you know?

The U.S. Department of Transportation claims in 2019, the U.S. waterborne foreign trade accounted for more than $1.6 trillion in goods movement, representing about 32% of total U.S. foreign trade by value. Moreover, more than 95% of overseas trade passes through U.S. ports. Therefore, any disruption or attack on this system could have significant economic, environmental, and social impacts. MARSEC Security also contributes to the global effort to enhance maritime security and prevent terrorism at sea.

Related article-Guide to Ship Security


MARSEC is not only about preventing attacks or incidents at sea. It is also about enhancing the resilience and sustainability of maritime operations and supporting global trade and development. Marsec security offers many opportunities for collaboration and innovation among various stakeholders, from governments to the private sector to civil society. If you are passionate about Marsec security, you can join this growing community by learning more about the field and developing your skills.

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