Safeguarding Maritime Operations

Ship Security: Safeguarding Maritime Operations

Ship security is an essential aspect of maritime operations. It involves protecting vessels internally and externally from threats such as terrorism, piracy, robbery, illegal trafficking of goods and people, illegal fishing, and pollution. In this article, we will explore security on ships and many maritime security aspects.

Ship Security: Protecting Vessels from Threats

Ship security is a vital aspect of maritime operations that ensures the safety and well-being of crew members, passengers, cargo, and vessels. Here are some reasons why is ship security important.

  • Itinvolves preventing and responding to various threats and risks from piracy, terrorism, sabotage, smuggling, cyberattacks, and other criminal or hostile activities.
  • Ship security also contributes to the stability and prosperity of the global maritime industry, which relies on the smooth and efficient movement of goods and people across the oceans.
  • Security on ships is a matter of individual responsibility and collective interest that requires cooperation and coordination among various stakeholders, such as ship owners, operators, managers, crew members, port authorities, coastal states, flag states, and international organizations.
  • By adhering to relevant regulations and standards, such as the ISPS Code, and implementing effective security measures on their ships, operators can improve their reputation, performance, and competitiveness in the market while reducing costs and liabilities. 
  • Ship security can also help protect the environment and marine resources from pollution and damage caused by accidents or deliberate attacks.

The ISPS Code

The Code for International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS Code), adopted by the IMO in 2002 as part of SOLAS amendments, is a key instrument for enhancing the security of ships and port facilities. The ISPS Code provides a framework for assessing and managing security risks at both ship and port levels. It also establishes minimum security standards and procedures for ships and port facilities and roles and responsibilities for various parties involved in ship security.

The ship security plan

ship security plan, ship security officer

According to the ISPS Code, every ship engaged in international voyages must have a Ship Security Plan (SSP).

What is ship security plan?

SSP is a document that outlines the measures and procedures that a ship will take to protect itself and its crew from security threats. A ship security assessment (SSA) identifies the potential vulnerabilities and risks of the ship and its operations, forming the basis for the SSP. The SSP covers access control, surveillance, communication, training, drills, contingency plans, and reporting. 

The flag State administration or a recognized security organization must approve the SSP. The SSP must also be kept on the ship and protected from unauthorized access or disclosure.

Furthermore, the SSP must include the following elements, among other things,

  • A clear statement of the ship security policy and objectives
  • A detailed description of the ship security organization and responsibilities
  • A description of the ship security equipment and systems
  • A description of the procedures for conducting ship security assessments and audits
  • A description of the procedures for responding to security incidents and threats
  • A description of the procedures for reporting security incidents and breaches
  • A description of the procedures for training and drills on ship security
  • A description of the procedures for maintaining and updating the SSP

The SSP must be implemented and maintained by a Ship Security Officer (SSO)

Who is ship security officer?

A ship security officer (SSO) is a key person responsible for ensuring a vessel’s and its crew’s safety. The SSO works closely with the company security officer (CSO) and the port facility security officer (PFSO) to implement and maintain a ship security plan that complies with the ISPS code.

Furthermore, the SSO also conducts regular security inspections, trains the crew on security awareness and procedures, reports any security incidents, and coordinates with other authorities to prevent and respond to threats. In addition, the SSO role is mandatory for every ship that operates in international waters, according to the STCW A-VI/5 requirements. Moreover, the SSO must have adequate knowledge and experience in maritime security and a certificate of proficiency from an approved training course.

Can PSC check the ship security plan?

Having an SSP is not enough to ensure adequate ship security. Regular checks and updates to the SSP are necessary to reflect the changing security situation and the specific needs of each ship. This is where the port state control (PSC) can play a role. The PSC is an inspection regime that verifies the compliance of foreign ships with international conventions and standards, such as the ISPS Code. Can psc check ship security plan? During a port visit, the PSC can verify that a ship’s SSP meets the requirements of the ISPS Code and is properly implemented on board.

The PSC check of the SSP can benefit both the ship and the port state. For the ship, it can provide an opportunity to identify and correct any gaps or weaknesses in the SSP and to receive feedback and guidance from the PSC officers. For the port state, it can enhance the security of its ports and waters and prevent any potential security breaches or incidents involving foreign ships. Therefore, the PSC check of the SSP is a collaborative and constructive process that aims to improve security on ships.

How ships ensure passenger safety and the leading companies in maritime security


Designers incorporate various features into ships to ensure passenger safety. Some of the features that ships have to prevent accidents and emergencies are:

  • Watertight compartments that can isolate water in case of a hull breach.
  • Fire detection and suppression systems that can alert the crew and extinguish flames.
  • Lifeboats and life rafts that can accommodate all passengers and crew in case of evacuation.
  • Emergency signals and communication devices that can contact the coast guard or other vessels for help.
  • Safety drills and procedures can train the passengers and crew to respond to different scenarios.

Ships are required to adhere to international regulations and standards such as SOLAS, which establishes minimum safety requirements for ships.


A security alert system of the ship (SSAS) is a device that helps to protect ships from piracy and terrorism attacks. It is part of the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS code) and is regulated by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

How ship security alert system works?

When a ship faces a security threat, the crew can activate the SSAS to send a silent alert to the ship owner, the flag state authority, or a third-party service provider. The alert contains important information about the ship and its location. The recipient of the alert then informs the nearest coastal state authorities, who can dispatch appropriate forces to assist the ship. The SSAS is silent, so it does not alert attackers. It does not produce any sound or signal on the ship or to nearby vessels. The SSAS is a vital tool for enhancing maritime security and preventing violence at sea.

Are cruise ship security armed?

One of the questions many cruise passengers have is whether the security personnel on board are armed. The answer is complex, as different cruise lines have different policies and regulations regarding this matter. Some cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Norwegian, do not allow their security staff to carry firearms. Still, they may have other weapons, such as batons, pepper spray, or tasers.

Other cruise lines, like MSC, Crystal, and Silversea, allow their security staff to carry firearms only under certain circumstances and with strict training and authorization.

The decision to arm or not arm the security staff depends on various factors as follows:

  • Size of the ship
  • Itinerary
  • Risk assessment
  • Local laws of the ports of call

In general, cruise lines try to balance the need for safety and security with the comfort and enjoyment of their guests.

Ship security insurance

One way to enhance ship security is to obtain ship security insurance for the vessel and its cargo. Security insurance is a type of coverage that compensates the insured for losses or damages caused by security incidents. Here are some reasons why ship security insurance is a crucial factor.

  • Security insurance can cover physical and financial risks, such as ransom payments, legal fees, medical expenses, repair costs, and loss of income.
  • Security insurance can provide peace of mind for ship owners, operators, crew members, shippers, and consignees.
  • It can also reduce the liability and exposure of the parties involved in maritime transport.

Specialized brokers or companies that provide risk management solutions for the maritime industry can offer ship as security insurance.

The Role of international organizations in ship security

Maritime security is a vital aspect of the global shipping industry, as it protects the lives and assets of seafarers, passengers, and cargo from various threats and risks. Some leading companies in this field offer various services and solutions, such as risk assessment, security consulting, training, vessel protection, and crisis management. Some examples of these companies are:


Ambrey is a UK-based maritime security company that operates in high-risk areas such as the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Aden, and the Gulf of Guinea. Their skilled consultants and operators offer customized solutions to their client’s needs and requirements.

Trident maritime security

Trident Group America, Inc is a leading maritime security and training service provider. Since 2000, this company has dedicated itself to developing custom solutions for complex problems. Trident Group America offers a range of services, such as,

  • anti-piracy plans
  • counter-piracy operations
  • terrorist vulnerability assessments
  • security consulting
  • maritime security training
  • support of innovative maritime discoveries

The company comprises highly skilled professionals with special military operations, law enforcement, intelligence, and maritime operations backgrounds. Trident Group America has also achieved ISO certification and has established strategic partnerships with other maritime entities. The company has a history of providing reliable and high-quality security solutions to clients in both the public and private sectors worldwide.


A global company that offers integrated maritime security solutions, such as

  • Intelligence
  • Surveillance
  • counter-piracy
  • cyber security

MAST has a worldwide network of offices and partners and can provide comprehensive support and guidance to clients in various sectors and regions.

Securewest International

A US-based company specializing in maritime security and risk management, focusing on the cruise industry. Securewest International has a portfolio of services that include

  • Ship security audits
  • crew training
  • emergency response planning
  • onboard security teams

Seagull maritime security

Seagull Maritime is a leading company in maritime security and risk management. It offers a range of services, such as,

  • Intelligence
  • protective services
  • crisis response
  • fisheries protection
  • insurance
  • digital solutions

Seagull Maritime has extensive experience in dealing with complex challenges in the maritime domain, such as piracy, illegal fishing, cyber threats, and environmental issues. Seagull Maritime aims to deliver the future of shipping by providing innovative and reliable solutions to its clients.

Who is a maritime security guard?

Maritime security guards protect ships, ports, and offshore facilities from threats such as piracy, robbery, or terrorism. Depending on their employer and assignment, they may work on different types of vessels, such as cargo ships, cruise ships, or private yachts. Firearms, self-defense, maritime law, and emergency procedures are usually the training areas for maritime security guards.

They are often required to have a military or law enforcement background and a valid security license and certification. Maritime security guards are essential for protecting the safety of crew, passengers, and cargo on ships and at sea.


Ship security is not a static or one-time activity but a dynamic and continuous process that requires constant vigilance and adaptation to changing circumstances. It is a crucial aspectF in ensuring maritime operations’ safety and security. The IMO plays a key role in developing regulations and guidance to manage and mitigate any threats that could compromise maritime security. By implementing these measures, ships can get better protection from various threats and risks.

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