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  • Writer's pictureShaun Robertson

How Are Ports Kept Secure?

Piracy and the protection of ships on the open seas is the main talking point of the maritime security industry and as such port security is not talked about. Whilst it is not neglected in terms of implementing procedures, it is important to mention the benefits that come from having stringent port security.

To define port security, it is the protection against unlawful acts within ports. These acts can range from theft, arson, smuggling, human trafficking and terrorism. More serious measures are intended to identify biological, chemical and nuclear material in ports to prevent WMD proliferation.


The main body of legislation which countries have signed up to follow comes from an amendment to the SOLAS (Safety To Life At Sea) convention and is titled the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS). The code was introduced in 2002 after the effects of 9/11 tightened global security in multiple sectors. As a result, port security guidance and legislation tend to be from a US-centric focus which is adopted worldwide.


Some countries have outsourcing port security to private companies

The guidance from the ISPS code seeks to put the responsibility on ship companies, port personnel and ship crew to help, “identify, address and deter threats against cargo vessels and cruise ships” within ports. This outline helps add an extra layer of protection to the security which is usually provided by the state in terms of customs, coast guard and other officials.

Some countries have tried outsourcing such jobs to private security companies, particularly in South-East Asia but this has been proven to be detrimental to port security. The code also looks to monitor, detect and deter threats through implemented security procedures and sharing of gathered intelligence.


Diving teams to check for smuggled items on the hulls of ships below the freeboard

Assessments must be provided in order to improve upon shortcomings and understand weaknesses within the security of ports. The establishment of roles and responsibilities across government and industries, as outlined by the ISPS code, helps provide further security and a chain of command for implementing better security.


"Port security includes theft, arson, smuggling, human trafficking and terrorism".


As port security is not talked about, as it does not grab the attention of headlines as much as topics such as piracy, what does it look like? Port security can consist of security guards, surveillance through CCTV and alarms to deter and alert to intrusions. More specialised security can be found in the form of diving teams to check for smuggled items on the hulls of ships below the freeboard, electro-optical sensors/infrared imaging for enhanced surveillance, sniffer dogs to hunt out narcotics and contraband and radar-integrated surveillance to help spot smaller craft with no AIS (Automatic Identification System).

More modern measures include radar for detecting drones which help set up drone exclusion zones over ports. More simple measures such as the securing of cargo and flood barriers help protect against environmental dangers such as flooding and hurricanes.


Whilst these measures range in simplicity and purpose, they are all included under the umbrella of port security.


Whilst not talked about as much in maritime security as other topics, port security is important to the trillion-dollar industry which ferries most of the world’s cargo. Port security does face newer challenges such as the threat of cyber attacks due to the increased technological reliance of the shipping industry on land and at sea. However, guidelines have been introduced to help prevent such threats.


For now, port security is a stable area which helps keep the industry running with small outliers such as the US and Iran sabotaging ships in ports such as Fujairah being outliers to this trend.



Anti-piracy safety barriers are available to rent. Find out more by clicking the picture below.



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