The ISPS Code For Ships – An Essential Quick Guide

What is the ISPS Code?

ISPS or the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code is an essential maritime regulation for the safety and security of ships, ports, cargo and crew.

The biggest challenge the world is facing today is fighting terrorism. There have been many events in the history lately involving terrorist attacks in different parts of the world in different forms.

But the most gruesome of all – September 11 terrorist attack on the twin towers (World Trade Centre) proved that the national and international security was on stake.

The maritime security is a prevailing issue and several incidences have taken place even before the 9/11 attack (for e.g. On 26th February 2000, bombs that were hidden inside two crowded buses in a Philippians’ ferry – Our lady of Mediatrix, exploded and killed 45 passengers).

Before the ISPS code, the SOLAS primary focus was the safety of the ship at sea. As security and safety are entirely different topics, new amendments were made in SOLAS and the Chapter XI, which contains measures to enhance maritime safety, by renaming to Chapter XI-1 and a new Chapter XI-2 was added with additional focus on maritime security.

Related Read: SOLAS and MARPOL – A General Overview

This new chapter comprises of regulations known as International Code for the Security of Ships and of Port Facilities with the abbreviated name “International Ship and Port Facility Security Code or the ISPS Code”.

Since the sea is one of the easiest ways to approach an international territory, International Maritime Organisation (IMO) under SOLAS convention chapter XI-2 developed the International Ship and Port Facility Security code – The ISPS code for the safety of ships, ports, seafarers and government agencies.


The ISPS code was implemented by IMO on July 1st 2004 as a comprehensive set of measurements for international security by prescribing responsibilities to a government authority, port authority, shipping companies and seafarers.

It applies to the ships doing international voyages which include passenger ships & cargo ships of 500 GT and above.

Related Read: 10 Ways to Enhance Ship Security

Main Aim of ISPS code In Shipping

The ISPS code mainly looks after the security aspects of the ship, seafarers, ports and port workers, to ensure preventive measures can be taken if a security threat is determined. The main aim of the International Code for the Security of Ships and of Port Facilities (ISPS) is as follows:

  • To monitor the activity of people and cargo operation
  • To detect the different security threats onboard vessel and in port and implement the measure as per the situation
  • To provide a security level to the ship and derive various duties and functions at the different security level
  • To establish the respective roles and responsibilities of the contracting governments, agencies, local administrations and the shipping and port industries
  • To build and implement roles and responsibilities for port state officer and onboard officers to tackle maritime security threat at the international level
  • To collect data from all over the maritime industry concerning security threats and implementing ways to tackle the same
  • To ensure the exchange of collected security-related information data with worldwide port and ship owners network
  • To provide a methodology for security assessments so as to have in place plans and procedures to react to changing security levels
  • To find the shortcomings in the ship security and port security plan and measure to improve them

Related Read: Measures Taken During Shipboard Operation for the Safety of Ship’s Crew, Cargo, and Marine Environment

ISPS Code Requirements

The ISPS code incorporates various functional requirements so that it can achieve certain objectives to ensure the security of ships and ports. Some of the important requirements are as follows:

  • To gather the security-related information from the contracting government agencies
  • To assess the received information
  • To distribute the security-related information to appropriate contracting government agencies
  • Defining the proper communication protocols for ships and port facilities for hassle-free information exchange
  • To prevent any unauthorised entry in port facilities or on a ship and other related restricted areas, even if the unauthorised entry is not a threat (but always considered as a potential threat)
  • To prevent the passage of unauthorised weapons, incendiary devices or explosives to ships and port facilities
  • To provide different means for raising the alarm if any security incident is encountered or a potential security threat is assessed
  • To implement proper security plan on port and ship-based upon the security assessment and requirements
  • To plan and implement training, drills and exercises for ship and port crew so that they are familiar with the security plans and there is no delay in implementing the same in case of a real threat

Related Read: What are the Duties of the Contracting Government (CG) under the ISPS Code?


ISPS Code Meaning for Ships:

The cargo ships are vulnerable to security threats as they hardly carry any weapon of protection in case of a real attack. Piracy, terrorist attack, stowaways etc. are real-time threats haunting the ship and its crew. Improved ship security will be required in order to identify and take preventive measures against such security incidents.

The administration is responsible for reviewing and approving a ship security plan for the ship, which will also include any amendments of old plans etc.

The company must train its officer for ship security officer certification and the assessment of the ship security will be carried onboard by these certified officers only. The timely assessment of the ship security plan (SSP) by a certified officer is essential for finding shortcomings and enhancing the current SSP.

The ship security assessment shall be documented, reviewed, accepted and retained by the company. Every ship must carry an approved ship security plan approved by the Administration.

ISPS Code for Vessels Includes :

Company Security Officer ( CSO )

CSO is a company appointed person, who is responsible for the ship security assessment and for the onboard survey to confirm the development and implementation of the ship security plan as per ISPS code. If any deficiency occurs, CSO is responsible to deal with all the non-conformities and to modify SSP as per the deficiency.

Related Read: What are the Duties of Ship’s Company Security Officer (CSO)?

Ship Security Officer ( SSO )

SSO is the i- charge of security of the vessel onboard and responsible for the other entire crew member to carry out duties for ship security as per ISPS code. SSO is responsible for carrying out frequent drills for ISPS Code as per SSP.

Related Read: What Are The Duties Of Ship Security Officer (SSO)?

Ship Security Plan ( SSP )

It is a plan kept onboard vessel mentioning the duty of crew members at different security levels and the do’s and don’ts at a different type of security threats. SSO is responsible under CSO to implement ship security plan onboard vessel.

Related Read: Understanding Ship Security Plan On Board Ships

Ship Security Alert System

Different types of security equipment are kept onboard which includes a metal detector for checking the person entering the vessel. From July 2004, most of the ship has installed the Ship Security Alert System (SSAS) as per ISPS norms which do not sound on the ship but alarm the shore authority about the security threat.

Related Read: What is Ship Security Alert System (SSAS)?

Implementing ISPS Security Level

It’s the responsibility of SSO to implement the security level onboard complying with the security level set by the local government authorities. Also, a continuous response is to be made to Port state when the security level is “level 3”.

ISPS Code for Port Facilities

Port facilities have to make sure that all the facilities are protected from any kind of threats which may arise from both land and water. They also need to monitor the ships which are coming to its shore from an international voyage for any security risk.

It is the port facility which defines the security levels to be implemented on the ships which are in its territorial waters. The Port managing company is responsible for preparing the Port Facility Security Plan.

The port facilities security assessment is also an essential and integral part of the process of developing and updating the port facility security plan.

The assessment is usually assessed and reviewed by the flag state or by the government organisation responsible for shipping and port development for that country.

ISPS Code for Port Facilities Includes:

Port Facility Security Officer ( PFSO )

PFSO is a Government-appointed officer responsible for implementing PFSP and to derive security levels for port and vessel berthing at their jetty. He is responsible to conduct a port facility security assessment.

Port Facility Security Plan ( PFSP )

It includes the plans and action to be taken at different security levels. Roles and responsibilities are included in PFSP. Action to be taken at the time of any security breach is described in PFSP.

Related Read: The Importance of Port Security

Security Equipment

Minimum security equipment like scanner and metal detector etc. must be available at all times with the port facility to avoid the breach of security inside the port.

Implementing Security Level

Security levels are implemented by the port authority under the consultation of a local government authority. The security level adopted for the port facility must be informed to vessel administration for cooperative measures.

Challenges of ISPS code:

Every regulation comes with its own challenges. The ISPS code is no different and has the following concerns:

  • Human rights are one of the biggest concerns with ISPS code as it directly affects the seafarers’ wellbeing. Shore leave has always been considered as an essential stress relief process for the ship’s crew, and due to the security threats many countries are prohibiting shore leave for seafarers

Related Read: Everything You Ever Wanted to know about ‘Shore Leave

  • Proper implementation of ISPS code is another concern as not all the crew are trained at the shore for ship security training.
  • It also impacts on the daily activity of crew as it comes with additional duties of security watch etc.
  • Implementing the security level on the ship is also an additional job, which is time-consuming.
  • The port activities are also affected when the security level rises, leading to slow down of cargo operation
  • When the security level is at its highest level, the port stay of the ship will increase as all the cargoes are checked as compared to lower security level (1 & 2), wherein only a handful of cargoes are inspected for security reasons
  • Some ports do not allow any cargo operations under security level 3 until the level is minimised.

Advantages of ISPS Code:

  • The ISPS aims to increase the safety and security of the ship hence minimised the risk
  • Better control of cargo flow, personal access
  • Better documentation procedure (as it has standard procedures all over)
  • Secured working environment making it easier for seafarers and port workers

Disadvantages of ISPS:

  • Additional work for seafarers as more security-related tasks are added to the work routine
  • Slow work progress when the security level rises
  • Additional paperwork and certification requirements
  • Increase in operating cost of the ship for ISPS implementation and increase in port costs (more port stay) if the security level is higher
  • More administration work

Related Read: 

References International Maritime Organisation

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 recommendation 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

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.


  1. sir, good-day

    These various ISPS..AND..SSO,PFSO Etc is irrellavent in situations of non steel say Is this danger of RDX was used in the Taj,within Indian port despite silly BPT, Coast guard, customs !
    Many innocent lives were lost~gassing in email is totally different actual action ?

  2. except Russia,N.America/Canada,Singapore,Israil ports and Arabian oil facilitie’s are to an extent safe;
    – Suez/Brazil/Nigeria/Somalia/Haiti dangerous,similar Chittagong,Indian ports are not at all safety vis-a-vis

  3. Sir,
    please advise whether a non mariner can be a CSO on the basis of shore experience.
    i am an Health safety environment manager working in an offshore company since 8 years, i have also assisted CSO for developing and maintaining all our vessel/barge SSP/SSA since 2011.

  4. Hi, I am studying for Mastee 500gt oral and finding your articles very helpful. I don’t suppose you have more articles on cargo handling, stowage, securing and carriage? Thanks and keep up the good work.


  5. If a pilot ladder is rigged over the offshore side whilst in port to allow access from bunker barges etc. and as a safety (escape) measure, does this breach the ISPS Code

  6. Hi, thank you for this article it is very helpful. i have this question, can a non-isps ships like a yacht or any small vessels be moored in the same harbor where tourist ships (isps ships) are moored?

    thank you in advance for your explanation

  7. @Raymond: Usually ports will not allow as these are dedicated pears with security control and supervision.

  8. Hi Sir,

    I found this article very useful.
    Is ISPS code applicable to the marine terminal owned by the oil&gas company and used for cargo and passenger operations within its operational area? This marine terminal is designed for berthing supply vessels only.
    Thank you!

  9. Sir, what are the penalties for non Compliance ports/Countries to ISPS Code?

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