The Ship Security Alert System (SSAS) is a safety measure for strengthening ship’s security and subduing acts of piracy and/or terrorism against shipping. Widely Acknowledged as a part of the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS code), the Ship Security Alert System (SSAS) complements the International Maritime Organization (IMO)’s attempts to increase maritime vessel security.
Cospas-Sarsat, with International Maritime Organization’s cooperation, came up with this project of Ship Security Alert System (SSAS). The basic idea is that in case of an attempted piracy effort, terrorist act, or any other incident which can be defined as a threat to the ship under the maritime security, the ship’s SSAS beacon would be activated, responding to which an appropriate law-enforcement or military forces would be dispatched for rescue. The Ship Security Alert System (SSAS) beacon and the Aircraft Transponder Emergency Code 7700 are operated on the fundament of similar principles.
The SSAS is a type of silent ship security alarm system which, when activated, does not issue any audio-visual signal on the ship or to nearby vessels or security forces. The alert in most cases is first received by the ship’s owner or an SSAS management third party, then passed to the ship’s flag state, and these receivers are obliged to inform the national authorities of the coastal states where the ship is sailing.
The Flag States decide who will be the initial recipient of the security alerts from the ships. The recipient may be one or more parties designated by the Flag State as competent authorities, which may include the Company (shipowner) or a SSAS manaegement third party.
How SSAS works?
- When the maritime security staff comprehends probable danger from pirates or terrorists, a Ship Security Alert System (SSAS) alert is triggered
- The beacon transmits a specific security alert, with important details about the ship and its location, to the administration and to the owner, or appointed professional SSAS management and monitoring services
- Once receiving the signal, the administration will notify the nearest national authorities of the area which will dispatch appropriate military or law-enforcement forces to deal with the terrorist or pirate menace
Legislation on Ship Security Alert System (SSAS)
In December 2002, International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted some changes within which Ship Security Alert System (SSAS) was determined in SOLAS Chapter XI-2, Regulation 6. It also required IMO to produce guidance on the implementation and instructions on the handling of covert alerts from SSAS instrumentation.
According to the international requirements regarding the security of ships and of port facilities, following ships must be provided with an SSAS:
- All cargo ships which are constructed on or after 1st July 2004
- All passenger ships and high-speed craft intended to carry passengers which are constructed before 1 July 2004 not later than at the first survey of their radio installation after 1st July 2004
- Oil tankers, chemical tankers, gas carriers, bulk carriers and cargo high-speed craft of 500 GT and above constructed before 1 July 2004 not later than at the first survey of their radio installation after 1 July 2004
- Other cargo ships of 500 GT and above constructed before 1 July 2004 and mobile offshore drilling units not later than at the first survey of their radio installation after 1 July 2006.
Related Read: What Are The Security Levels Under ISPS Code?
The SSAS alerts are to be sent by the security staff, necessarily at routine priority, from the ship to its administration directly or other proper recipient designated by the Administration (flag state).
These routine priority SSAS alerts might be chosen by Administrations to have from their flagships addressed to Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres in their own region or to other targets such as ship owners or managers.
Satellite service of Inmarsat C, mini-C and D+ would help affirm the full accessibility of processing the messages of Ship Security Alert System (SSAS), while the existing outdated GMDSS would require an update provided by its manufacturers or agents.
SSAS solutions, which are available on the Inmarsat network, inevitably render more flexibility in the routing of SSAS alerts.
In accordance with the requirements of the IMO, these alerts could be sent to any destination, which might be a rescue coordination center, or a national security organisation or the shipowner or any other third-party organisation but necessarily selected by the flag administration.
The security staff can deliver the Ship Security Alert System (SSAS) to fax, email, telex, GSM phone, or even to other Inmarsat terminals for the sake of ship security complying with the legislation specified in Regulation 6.
Related Read: What is Ship Security Assessment (SSA)?
The SSAS Button/Switch:
As per the regulation, minimum two security alert buttons must be provided on the ship, one being located on the bridge and the second one should be located in any other prominent position (for e.g. Accommodation). The location of the switch must be known to all the ship’s crew.
The switch must be provided with a protective latch cover, to avoid misuse or accidental operation of the vessel. When the ship is at dry dock and if any work is being carried out near the SSAS button, proper instruction must be given to the person involved in that area for not touching/operating the button. In dry dock or layups, the latch can be locked temporarily, with the key kept at an accessible location and known to Master and the Ship Security Officer. During normal operation, the safety cover should never be locked.
When the Ship Security Alert System is Activated, following details will be sent to the administration:
- Name of ship
- IMO number allotted to the ship
- The Call Sign of the ship
- The Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) position of the ship in latitude and longitude
- Maritime Mobile Service Identity
- Date and time of the alert according to the GNSS position (as per the current time the ship is sailing)
Once the SSAS is pressed, the alert should be continuously transmitted to the administration or designated authority selected by the administration unless it is reset or deactivated.
Related Read: 10 Ways to Enhance Ship Security
The responsibility of the Signal Receiver:
- The SSAS signal is received by the administration (flag state) and either by the owner or another representative selected by the administration (professional SSAS management and monitoring services)
- An email or phone number is dedicated to receiving the SSAS alert and should be continuously monitored by the administration representatives as missing the alert or acting late on it can cause severe harm to the life and property
- Once the signal is received, the date and time should not be misunderstood as the local time of the administration or owner’s location. The date and time represent the location of the ship which is currently sailing. (for e.g. the Panama registry office will receive the signal of its ship sailing near Somalia, hence if the message is received at 11:47 PM Wednesday, in Panama, it is sent 7:47 am Thursday from Somalia)
- Make contact with the vessel about the alert signal to make sure the alert is legitimate and not a faulty alert
- Once the alert is confirmed legitimate, the administration should alert the situation to the nearest coastal authority and security agency.
- If the alert is generated due to fault in the SSAS equipment, ensure to inform the same to coastal and security authorities.
Testing Of SSAS :
- The SSAS should be tested for its proper function to ensure it is working properly as the functionality of the SSAS is crucial in case of a real emergency
- Also, as per the Maritime Safety Committee circular- 1155, the companies must ensure to notify the flag stat well ahead of the test so that it should not be misunderstood as a real emergency
- Most of the flag states (administration) responsible for receiving and acting on the signal have laid down rules for communicating the test procedures of SSAS. For e.g. some flag state has the requirement to notify about the SSAS test not more than 2 days in advance and not less than 4 hours prior to the test
- The shipmaster is responsible to notify the same by a pre-test notification email to the email address provided by the flag state dedicated to testing communications. This helps the flag state and the ship representative in effectively tracking the alert notifications and ensuring there is no miscommunication as it may lead to unintended emergency response actions, which will cost valuable time and money
- The email or message sent to the flag state must contain “TEST” word in the subject and inside the message to ensure there is no confusion whatsoever
- Once the test has been performed, the Master of the ship should send another email/ message to the administration about the conclusion of the test, as soon as possible. This ensures the administration will be ready to respond to the emergency in case another alert comes of a real emergency
- It may happen that the SSAS button and instrument associated with it are faulty and continuously sending alerts to the administration. In such case, the company security officer (CSO) must inform the situation to the administration using the proper channel and ensure the repair is carried out at the earliest possible situation.
- Once the SSAS equipment has been rectified and restored to the normal operation, the Ship Security Officer (SSO) must inform the Company Security Officer (CSO), and then he/she will inform the same to the flag state.
Related Read: What Are The Duties Of Ship Security Officer (SSO)?
Annual check of complete SSAS system must be performed (usually done during annual radio equipment survey) and also during the renewal or intermediate inspection of ISPS certificate. The checks to be performed as per the Ship Security Plan.
The unit should have the option to test the alarm internally when the flag state representative is onboard.
- Fully maritime focused
- Use of the Inmarsat C, mini-C, D+ satellite service
- Upgradation over older GMDSS version.
- Global coverage
- Suitable for asset tracking
- Daily reports at routine priority
- Web-based tracking
- Conforms to IMO standards and full compliance with the requirements of SOLAS XI-2/6
- Installation, testing, and instruction on usage by professionals.
- The SSAS setup on a ship is still considered as an additional financial burden on ships and ship owner try to stick to the regulation by providing only two ship security alert system switches on a ship. It is possible that during the attack, these two locations are not accessible and if the number of the switch is increased, it will add to the safety of the ship and its crew
- The regulation does not make it mandatory to have an independent source of power to the ship’s SSAS. In case of failure of main power or fault in the emergency backup power, the SSAS will not work
- As discussed earlier, the switches are provided in two locations which includes bridge as one location. It is important for the Master to ensure the ship’s crew knows the location of the switches. The familiarization of the locations in every drill is still not practised in many ships which may lead to confusion in case of a real emergency
- There are many agencies/ third party who are dedicated to monitoring the SSAS alert from the ship. To save the cost, many owners do not opt for such agencies and prefer to keep this service in-house (Company security officer). It is naïve to think that CSO will never miss a call or a message or the phone dedicated to the alert will never run out the battery
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An ardent sailor and a techie, Anish Wankhede has voyaged on a number of ships as a marine engineer officer. He loves multitasking, networking, and troubleshooting. He is the one behind the unique creativity and aesthetics at Marine Insight.