What Are The Security Levels Under ISPS Code?

The security levels under the ISPS code describe the current scenario related to the security threat to the country and its coastal region including the ships visiting that country.

The security levels are decided by the cooperation of ship and port authorities, keeping the current condition of national and international security.

The local government sets the security level and ensures to inform port state and ships prior to entering the port, or when berthed in the port.

All personnel onboard ships and port state staff are assigned security duties, which are different for people of different levels. Moreover, frequent security drills are also carried out onboard ships.

As soon as the security level has been decided as per the ISPS code, it is displayed prominently onboard vessel at the entrance of the ship.

It should be noted that the MARSEC level of the ship should always be the same or higher than the port’s MARSEC level.

Representation Image – Photograph by Angelbert Dungog

For any of the security levels, the following are the general points to be  kept in mind:

  • Checking the identity of all persons boarding/wanting to board the vessel
  • Designated secure areas are established in liaison with the PFSO
  • Segregate checked persons from those unchecked for ease of operation
  • Segregating embarkation and disembarkation
  • Identification of access points to be secured against unauthorised access
  • Securing of areas that provide access to personnel
  • Providing security briefings to all ship personnel on possible threats and the levels associated with the port
  • Compliance with the SSP at all times

MARSEC Level 1

The normal level that the ship or port facility operates on a daily basis. Level 1 ensures that security personnel maintains minimum appropriate security 24/7.

In this, all those liable to board must be searched. The frequency of the same should be specified in the SSP. Such searches are to be carried out in coordination with the port facility.

It is important to remember the human rights angle of the individual being searched and the search should not violate their dignity.

  • Minimum security measures are always maintained onboard and in port
  • Ship and port operation is carried out as per ship and port facility security plan
  • Port facility ensures to keep the ‘no access’ areas under surveillance at all times
  • Ship and port authority mutually supervise the loading and unloading operation of cargo and stores, ensuring access control and other minimum security criteria.
  • Minimum access in the ship is maintained at all times.

MARSEC Level 2

A heightened level for a time period during a security risk that has become visible to security personnel. Appropriate additional measures will be conducted at this security level.

At this level, the SSP should establish the measures to be applied to protect against the heightened risk. Higher vigilance and tighter control with regard to the security of the ship is in play here.

  • Assigning additional personnel for patrolling the access areas
  • Deterring waterside access to the ship
  • Establishing a restricted area on the shore side of the ship
  • Increasing the search frequency and detail of the persons due to board or disembark
  • Escorting all visitors onboard
  • Additional security briefings to the ship’s personnel to with emphasis in relation to the security level
  • Carrying out a full or partial search of the ship

MARSEC Level 3

Will include additional security measures for an incident that is forthcoming or has already occurred that must be maintained for a limited time frame. The security measure must be attended to although there might not be a specific target that has yet been identified.

Again, the SSP should be adhered to and with strong liaison with the port facility. The following measures should be put in place with the highest degree of vigilance and detail:

  • Limiting access to a single, controlled access point
  • Granting access strictly to authorised personnel or those responding to any security incident
  • Suspension of embarkation and disembarkation
  • Suspension of cargo operations and stores etc
  • If needed, the evacuation of the ship
  • Close monitoring of the movement of the people on board
  • Preparing for a full or partial search of the ship

Restricted Areas

The SSP must identify areas that are restricted which are to be established on board. The purpose of such areas is to restrict access, protect the personnel on board, protect the cargo from pilferage or tampering etc.

The restricted areas may include the navigation bridge, machinery spaces, spaces with security-related equipment, ventilation spaces, spaces containing IMDG cargo, accommodation, any other areas specified as per the SSP.

With regard to the restricted areas, the measures to be applied to them are as follows:

MARSEC Level 1

  • Locking/securing access points
  • Using surveillance equipment to monitor areas
  • Thorough patrolling
  • Using alarm system to alert the ship’s personnel in case of unwanted entry

MARSEC Level 2

  • Establishing restricted areas in the vicinity of the access points
  • Continuously monitoring surveillance equipment
  • Additional personnel for patrolling said areas

MARSEC Level 3

  • Setup of restricted areas near the access points at the highest level of stringency
  • Searching for restricted areas as part of the ship search

Cargo Handling

Security measures are in place vis a vis cargo operations to prevent tampering as well as to prevent the carriage of any cargo that has not been authorised or established to be carried onboard. The following measures can be used as a reference:

MARSEC Level 1

  • Routine checks on cargo, transport units, cargo spaces
  • Matching cargo with the documentation
  • Loading vehicles subjected to search in liaison with the PFSO
  • Checking seals to prevent tampering

MARSEC Level 2

  • Detailed checking of cargo, transport units, cargo spaces
  • Intense checks to ensure only intended cargo is loaded
  • Intense check on loading vehicles
  • Increased frequency of checking seals

MARSEC Level 3

  • Suspension of loading or discharging
  • Verify inventory of DG and hazardous substances onboard

Delivery Of Ships Stores

Stores should be checked for packing integrity including random checks on samples. Nop stores should be accepted without inspection; check if tampered with if accepted. Unless ordered, stores should not be accepted.

Double-check with documentary evidence about what has been ordered and what has not. Following measures may be used as reference:

MARSEC Level 1

  • Match orders with documents prior to loading
  • Stow the stores securely

MARSEC Level 2

  • Thorough checks prior to loading stores and intensifying inspections of the same

MARSEC Level 3

  • Delivery of stores to be taken only in case of emergency

Handling of unaccompanied baggage

Baggage must be screened before taking on board; use advanced methods such as X-ray if needed.

MARSEC Level 1

  • Baggage screened and searched which may include X-ray screening

MARSEC Level 2

  • Full screening including X-ray of all baggage

MARSEC Level 3

  • Suspension of baggage handling
  • Refusal to accept any unaccompanied pieces of baggage

Monitoring the security of the ship

The aspect of monitoring must cover lighting, watchkeepers including security guards for patrolling, intrusion detection devices. These intrusion devices must be capable of setting off an alarm.

The ship’s deck and access points should be illuminated in darkness as well as the vicinity of the ship depending on the extent of security threat that is at stake. In ports prone to contraband smuggling, an underwater hill check must also be carried out.

The security of the ship and the port are complementary to each other. One cannot be safe without the help of the other. The SSO and PFSO’s communication and cooperation is essential to the compliance of the SSP and the upkeep of security levels.

If you liked this article, you may also like to read ISPS Code & IMO.

Disclaimer: The authors’ views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Marine Insight. Data and charts, if used, in the article have been sourced from available information and have not been authenticated by any statutory authority. The author and Marine Insight do not claim it to be accurate nor accept any responsibility for the same. The views constitute only the opinions and do not constitute any guidelines or recommendations on any course of action to be followed by the reader.

The article or images cannot be reproduced, copied, shared or used in any form without the permission of the author and Marine Insight. 

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About Author

Shilavadra Bhattacharjee is a shipbroker with a background in commercial operations after having sailed onboard as a Third Officer. His interests primarily lie in the energy sector, books and travelling.

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  1. Good article. I certainly appreciate this website.
    Stick with it!

  2. Good article. This will help me improving my knowledge and efficiency in improving security measures of my Port.

  3. very educating. I must confess that this write up has increased my knowledge of security level under ISPS C

  4. Is SSO or Master allowed to change Security level in case of unexpected threat or occurance at sea or in port? E.g. in case of pirate attack? I guess that SSO is allowed to increase level and notify CSO and Flag about reasons of doing so.

  5. it’s reminding my mind ,reguarding security,this lessons it guide me the way to do so ,for those people are came aboard

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