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Maritime security

The spiraling cost of maritime security

Over the past decade the cost of maritime security has spiraled upwards. As well as the physical cost of extra equipment and additional personnel, the amount of time involved in planning and implementing these measures has pushed up annual expenditure on port facilities and shipping lines worldwide.

Before 11 September 2001 port security was an important but still a relatively minor activity. Today it has become perhaps the single most important element in the day-to-day operation of vessels and maritime facilities. It influences everything the port does, from admitting workers and vehicles to the port to tracking cargo, to checking vessel history and ports of call.

The International Ship & Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code is part of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and compliance is mandatory for the 148 countries that are part of SOLAS. For others it is a voluntary but very necessary requirement. Any port or vessel that is not ISPS compliant is at an immediate disadvantage when trading with some countries.


Set of measures

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) defines the ISPS Code as “a comprehensive set of measures to enhance the security of ships and port facilities, developed in response to the perceived threat to ships and port facilities in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in the United States”.

The Code was adopted in 2002 and came into full force in 2004. It has dramatically changed the way ports do business with each other and the protocols involved in the way cargo is transported by sea.

Compliant ports have had to make themselves more physically secure by investing in perimeter fencing, lighting, guards and access systems. Cargoes and vessels have become subject to more scrutiny and tracking than ever before. Cruise ships must comply with several additional levels of security requirements.

However, the ISPS Code can only do so much to reduce the chance of illegal or terrorist activities, large or small. There are many other areas that need constant attention and updating.

Security expert William Lusk, director of operations of Homeland Security Outlook, said: “Maritime security in the Caribbean region continuously faces threats, from small-scale petty theft at ports to situations of a more catastrophic nature like hurricanes, oil spills and terrorism. The challenge posed to ports and shipowners is investing time and resources to mitigate risks posed by these and other threats. The first step forward is to foster a culture of communication and cooperation with all security stakeholders, from law enforcement and government officials to community leaders and information technology specialists.”

Cyber security

Combating cyber crime has become a priority for shipping lines and ports as well as governments, although the full extent of the potential threat to the shipping industry is still unclear.

One school of thought is that global satellite navigation systems could be jammed in some way, causing widespread disruption.

Mr Lusk quoted an example: “In 2013 the University of Texas at Austin led an experiment to prove that seagoing vessels’ navigation systems could be hacked. A 65 ft yacht was diverted off course using a spoofing device that transmitted fake GPS coordinates to the vessel – and as such, the vessel’s crew altered course to ‘correct’ the vessel heading. The implications of this experiment are large, as GPS spoofing could be a method used by sophisticated hijackers in the future.”

Others speculate about the hacking of cargo tracking systems by smugglers. This includes the smuggling not only of narcotics and arms but also of nuclear and biological weapons aimed at the country of discharge. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how port and customs software could be hijacked to allow a certain cargo to be moved through a port undetected by physical checks or scanning.

It is estimated that less than two per cent of the 12 million containers in use have their contents physically checked each year. To check more would be a hopeless and logistically almost impossible task; and even if it were possible, it would cause unimaginable congestion and delays. There are thought to be over 200 million container movements per year in the USA alone.

One result of this is the development of better and faster scanning technology, so that as many containers as possible can be effectively scanned in the minimum of time.

With improvements in scanning technology, the choice of equipment has also expanded. Today it includes everything from hand-held X-ray machines and radiation detectors to drive-through container scanners that allow a high volume of vehicles to be checked. For mobile operations, cargo scanners can be mounted on trucks to pass over the cargo to be scanned.

While cyber crime is a huge potential threat to the shipping industry, examples of infiltrations are quite rare so far. However, there are some.

One that reached the headlines recently was the hacking of cargo tracking systems at the Belgian port of Antwerp to assist in the smuggling of narcotics from South America. The substances were hidden in containers, and although the haul seized had a street value of US$ 220 million, it is not known how many shipments had preceded the uncovering of the operation. It is thought the hacking had taken place over two years, with the hackers going to great lengths to cover their tracks.


While piracy is prevalent mostly in Asian and African waters, and although it has been reduced significantly in some areas thanks to a concerted effort by local security forces, it does exist in the Caribbean, albeit generally in the form of petty theft and assault.

Nevertheless, in terms of piracy prevalence, the Caribbean region is ranked sixth in the world, just behind South America. There is also a worrying increase in piracy off the coast of Brazil that is heightening regional fears. The fact is that vessels at sea have never been more vulnerable. Almost every ship that can be tracked is in constant danger of being
seized by nefarious forces and raided or hijacked for ransom.

Mr Lusk said: “It is critical for ship owners and operators to have a plan. Although piracy occurrences in the Caribbean are low, the risk is not zero. Have
a sound plan and drill frequently to help minimize piracy consequence to your vessel and crew.”

National security forces play their part in protecting vessels passing through their waters or calling their ports, but there has also been a huge increase in the number of private maritime security companies (PMSCs) offering services such as armed escorts, routeing advice and threat monitoring.

Even though the number of piracy cases in the Caribbean is relatively small, the cost to shipping lines can be significant, both in PMSC costs and in extra fuel and possibly also time in order to bypass a danger zone or put on speed to reduce the chances of being boarded. In addition, there could be higher insurance costs and vessel modifications such as security fencing and gun emplacements, plus training and equipment. This can add up to tens of thousands of dollars of extra cost per voyage, which of course is then passed onto the shipper and, ultimately, the consumer.

Case study – Bahamas

A good example of a nation investing in its own security is The Bahamas. The ‘Sandy Bottom’ project is one of the most advanced security planning projects under way in
the Caribbean. Working with major Dutch companies Damen and Van Oord, the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) is investing in nine new vessels and three port facilities to renew its naval infrastructure.

Representing the largest investment in the RBDF’s history, the nine vessels are reported to be costing US$149 million, while the port facilities represent a further US$75 million.
Mr Lusk said: “This is an incredible undertaking to decentralize the RBDF. The project is well under way, with the Bahamas beginning to accept delivery of its vessels. The project should be completed in 2016.”

The nine vessels include one Stan Lander 5612 ro-ro landing craft fitted with a 25 ton crane and disaster relief equipment for assisting with emergency operations, four Damen Stan Patrol (SPa) 4207 type vessels and four SPa 3007 patrol craft.

Intended to provide a more complete security network, the SPa 4207 vessels will be based in offshore waters. These vessels have a range of more than 2,000 nautical miles, a maximum speed of 20 knots and a voyage capacity of over 10 days.

The smaller, shallower draft, SPa 3007 vessels will work in the coastal waters and shallow waters areas.

Mr Lusk added: “To minimize the response time of these vessels, the RBDF is constructing forward operating bases at Matthew Town on Great Inagua and Gun Point on Ragged Island as well as improving the current infrastructure at Coral Harbour, on New Providence, with new docks and ramps and dredging the entrance to 15 ft.”


Improved technology is a major aid in dealing with security matters. Ever more complex and faster scanners are being used in ports and by handling agents to reduce the need for time-consuming physical searches. Improved communication channels are a key part of the process, but upgrading the technical infrastructure can mean a significant outlay.

What is essential is that all security, communication and port operation networks should be integrated to provide a seamless overview of everything that is going on inside the port. This integrated approach will ensure that all components function effectively and will allow a quicker response to critical situations. In addition, most systems are web-based, allowing access at remote locations and continuous monitoring away from the main locations.

Intelligent CCTV is one of the latest developments, allowing pan tilt zoom (PTZ) cameras to capture information that can be tagged and tracked, for example individuals and vehicles, to assist real-time monitoring as well as traffic flow management to reduce congestion.

Mr Lusk described another project. “Turks & Caicos has invested in an incredible radar station which allows it to track the movements of search and rescue cases, drug smugglers, illegal fishermen and illegal immigrants from Haiti. The radar station has improved Turks & Caicos’s maritime domain awareness, which has altered the police force’s patrol tactics to make them more efficient.”

The radar station opened in 2012 and is proving very effective, allowing Turks & Caicos to better monitor its surrounding waters.

“Since its inception, thousands of vessels have been tracked transiting waters surrounding Turks & Caicos,” said Mr Lusk. “The station has assisted in 14 search and rescue events and the apprehension of 17 Haitian sloops bearing illegal migrants.”


Estimating the cost to the industry in just over a decade of improved security measures is no easy task. That the figures are significant is not in doubt, but they are also wrapped up with other general improvements at many ports.

A good indicator, though, could be obtained from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which provides an annual Port Security Grant. This is a main avenue for ports in the United States to obtain financing for capital security improvements in technologies and resources. The Port Security Grant Program “…reflects the intent of Congress and the Administration to create a sustainable effort for the protection of critical infrastructure from terrorism, especially explosives and non-conventional threats that would cause major disruption to commerce and significant loss of life.”

Over the past decade these grants have totaled some US$ 2.2 billion of investment.


Thanks for additional information from William Lusk, director of operaions, Homeland Security Outlook