What is ISPS Security Code?

ISPS stands for International Ship and Port facility Security code. This is an important part of maritime laws and regulations that safeguard the safety of ocean faring vessels, sea ports, seamen, crew and cargo.

ISPS code regulations were introduced by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) on the 1st of July 2004. These regulations define the responsibilities that governmental authorities, port operators, freight forwarders and seamen have to undertake with regards to maritime security.

Some of the ISPS objectives are:

  1. Collation security information from government authorities.
  2. Analysis of information collated.
  3. Distribution of information to correct government stakeholders
  4. Definition of communications protocols for ocean faring vessels and ports
  5. Prevention of unlawful or unauthorised entry into port facilities, into vessels
  6. Prevention of transportation of unlawful weapons, explosives or devices
  7. Provision of means to raise security alarms
  8. Port and ship security planning
  9. Security drill planning and implementation

ISPS Security Levels

  • Security Level 1: This is the normal level of security. Vessels and ports are operating in a normal environment with minimum protective activities and procedures required.
  • Security Level 2: At this level there is an increased risk of security incidents occurring. As such, increases procedures must be implemented for the duration of this security level. Port and vessel security experts will determine how long this level lasts.
  • Security Level 3: This is an exceptional level of security risk. At this level, a security incident level is imminent. Additional and exact security measures will have to be undertaken. Port and vessel security experts will have to work closely with Government agencies during this level.

Important appointment holders under ISPS

  • CSO – Company Security Officer. The CSO is responsible for vessel security assessments, and onboard surveys to assess conformance to ISPS code requirements.
  • SSO – Ship Security Officer. The SSO is in charge of vessel security.
  • PFSO – Port Facility Security Officer. THE PFSO is appointed by the government authorities. The PFSO is responsible for determining port security procedures. The PFSO must also determine the security levels required for vessels that berth at the port.

Who pays ISPS charges?

Typically, customers get billed the ISPS fees by the shipping line. This usually is in the form of a terminal security charge and carrier security charge. ISPS fees are normally included in the quote for freight.

ISPS code advantages:

  • Safety of ocean faring vessels and seamen is improved
  • Cargo and personnel movement is better controlled
  • Procedures are better documented
  • The working environment for port workers and seamen is made safer

ISPS code disadvantages:

  • Increase in procedures and work
  • Slower turn around on tasks and activities
  • Increase in documentation
  • Increase in vessel and port operating costs

Difficulties of the ISPS code:

  • Seafarer’s morale and human rights issues may be a challenge due to restraints on movements and allowed activities
  • Lack of training and understanding of procedures
  • Push back on additional work required
  • Cargo to gate lead time is increased due to increased procedures


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