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There's a Lot to Know About the ISPS Code

John K. Fulweiler

Throughout the maritime industry, PortGard is known for its slogan: Securing Sheltered Waters. Whether it’s deploying security patrols, consulting on ship-security issues, or performing personnel investigations, PortGard truly lives up to its tag line! And for those that have had an opportunity to work with PortGard, there is a strong appreciation for its “value-added” services which are consistently above and beyond what is expected. This is particularly evident in PortGard’s continual efforts to educate and inform.

For instance, a front-line issue to the maritime community, and an issue PortGard personnel persistently work to promote a better understanding of, is the International Ship & Port Facility Security Code (known among those in the know as the “ISPS Code”).

In a nutshell, the ISPS Code is a creature of the International Maritime Organization (“IMO”) which sets forth extensive requirements designed to enhance security aboard ships and at port facilities. (For the readers’ guidance, the IMO is a specialized agency of the United Nations). The ISPS Code consists of two aspects; one which is mandatory and the other which is merely recommended. The purpose of the ISPS Code is to establish a baseline of standardized security particulars which make it easier to evaluate risk, identify appropriate security measures, and perhaps most importantly, provide a framework upon which effective communication of information and ideas can be conveyed.

The ISPS Code is now in sweeping effect. Approximately 150 countries who are signatories to the Safety of Life At Sea Convention (“SOLAS”) are required to comply with many of its provisions. In broad speak, that means that some 50,000 vessels and thousands of port facilities fall within the ambit of the ISPS Code. Furthermore, if a ship does not comply with the ISPS Code it will not be issued an International Ship Security Certificate which will sorely limit those ports at which the vessel will be allowed to call. In fact, as of July, 2004, a vessel lacking such a Certificate can be detained by the port authority until compliance is shown. The ISPS Code is clearly a convention with “teeth”.

From a practical perspective, the ISPS Code requires, among other things, the implementation of a Ship Security Plan and Port Security Plan, the appointment of a Ship Security Officer, Company Security Officer, Port Facility Security Officer, as well as the installation of ship alarms, and shipboard Automatic Identification Systems. Still, the ISPS requirements apply only to the ship/port interface and they do not concern the actual response to potential terrorist attacks nor subsequent remedial efforts following such attacks.

One of the most frequently received inquiries concerns why the ISPS Code came into being. However, against the dark and lingering shadows of the September 11, 2001 horrors, it is easy to see its lineage. While security at sea had always been a concern, the IMO was spurred into formulating tough new maritime security measures in late 2001. In 2002, the IMO convened a massive conference to discuss the potential new measures and in 2003, the IMO issued the ISPS Code. Considering the potential for bureaucratic quagmire, the IMO should be commended for its surefooted and rapid action. You can find a copy of the ISPS Code at and you can always reach a knowledgeable PortGard personnel member via its website.

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