What is ISPS?


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What is ISPS?

The International Ship and Port Facility Security Code is an essential security measure put in place as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. This code was implemented to regulate and control the security and safety of the crew, ships, ports, and cargo as they travel through international waters.  

The ISPS program is an amendment to the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention on minimum security arrangements.  


What is the main goal of ISPS?

The main goal of the ISPS is to enact preventative measures if and when a security threat is presented, both at sea and in the port. Here are some detailed measures that the ISPS takes: 

  • Monitor the activity of cargo operations and people.
  • Detect any and all security threats on the vessel, ship, and port.
  • Provide a security authority on the ship, consisting of a multitude of duties at each level of security.
  • Establish roles and responsibilities for port state officers and onboard officers of varying levels, to handle maritime security threat internationally.  
  • Establish roles and responsibilities for each contracting government agency, local administration, as well as the shipping and port representatives.
  • Collect international data concerning security threats and develop solutions to each of these problems.
  • Share any and all security-related data with the general public, the international port, and ship owners.  
  • Assess the flaws of the industry and design the necessary solutions for each issue.  


What are the levels of security within the ISPS code? 

The ISPS code consists of three security levels, and they are:  

Security Level One - Normal: This is the normal level of security that ships and port facilities operate under. At this time, there are minimum protective measures that need to be maintained. Here are some of the action plans: 

  • Ship and port operations are carried out in a general/normal manner.
  • Ship and port operations and security are carried out according to their facility security plan.
  • Ship and port authority equally divide and supervise the loading and unloading process.
  • Port authority keeps the “No Access” areas under surveillance at all times.  


Security Level Two- Heightened: This level is applied whenever there’s a higher risk of a security incident during transport. At this time, additional security measures are implemented and maintained for a given period of time. Security experts on the ship and port facility will indicate how long ‘heightened’ security measures need to be in place.  

  • All routine and cargo operations are carried out with increased security measures in ships and ports. 
  • Ship and port authorities increase “Lookouts” in no access zones and waterside areas.  
  • Access control is enforced with the use of escorts aboard and the implementation of security cameras and metal detectors.  
  • Ship and port authorities prepare full or partial search operations of the ship.


Security Level Three- Exceptional: At this level of security, incidents are almost unmissable so case-specific security measures will be put into place. The security experts on the ship and port will work closely with government agencies and follow specific protocols to avoid any issues.

  • Ship and port operations often stop and frequent security rounds and duties will be carried out by both parties.
  • The treat of the incident or its target may not be possible to identify right away.
  • There is limited access to a single, controlled access point.
  • Access is only granted to those who are authorized personnel or responders of a security incident.
  • During this time, there can be a suspension of embarkation or disembarkation, as well as suspension of cargo operations.  
  • Port authority keeps the “No Access” areas under surveillance at all times and monitors the movement of people on the ship.  


What is an ISPS charge? Who is responsible to pay for it? 

The ISPS code is a mandatory implementation to ensure the safety of all concerned parties and goods. This results in monetary expenses for the employment of trained personnel. In turn, this requires a lot of manpower, equipment, and planning to ensure that the ISPS code is correctly implemented.

To make sure of this, companies charge an ISPS surcharge on ocean shipments. A customer may get surcharged in the form of Carrier Security Fee (CSF) and/or Terminal Security Charge (TSC).  

Typically, the ISPS charges are a part of the freight quote and are required to be paid along with the freight. This means that whoever pays for the freight (the shipper or the consignee) will also have to pay the ISPS surcharge.




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