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Maritime Security and Beyond

Carroll Ward, Certified Protection Professional, Department of Commerce, Office of Security Regional Security Officer


U.S. Coast Guard Port Security Photo

In the past year several Port Meteorological Officers (PMO) have requested assistance with compliance issues associated with the new maritime/port security initiatives at their duty locations. I want to take this opportunity to let you know that you are not alone. Although, the new maritime security initiatives were developed to be consistent across the nation, implementation may be quite different at each port. For that reason, I will only write about the new security program initiatives in general. I hope the information in this article will give you a broader picture of what the current national and global maritime security initiatives are, so that you will have a better understanding of potential security changes in your geographic area and an insight as to how the changes may affect your operation. Anytime you are confronted with security issues, please do not hesitate to contact your servicing security office for assistance. The first steps for a smooth transition into the new maritime security requirements at your specific port facility is to understand what is at risk, develop a strong relationship with your Port Authority Office, and know what can be expected if the current threat level in your area is raised.

What's At Risk

America's coasts, rivers, bridges, tunnels, ports, ships, military bases, and waterside industries may be the terrorists' next targets. The overall risk associated with the vulnerability of the U.S. maritime assets, both as a potential target for terrorist activity and more importantly as a transportation platform for the introduction of a "Trojan Horse," in which a potential weapon of mass destruction (WMD), terrorist, contraband or illegal aliens, enters the U.S. through its seaports, has been made very clear in the last several years. A catastrophic event at a seaport facility would not only affect the global transport infrastructure, but could also result in global economic devastation for a long period of time.

To better understand the total complexity of the problem and the global economic implications, consider the following facts provided by the United States Coast Guard in April 2004.1

  • Until 9/11, the focus of maritime industry was on efficiency, not security
  • Over 95% of non-North American trade enters through U.S. seaports (9 million containers)
  • Accounts for 2 billion tons and $800 billion of domestic and international freight annually
  • 26,000 miles of commercial waters serving 361 ports - over 5,000 marine terminals
  • 3.3 billion barrels of oil imported annually
  • 6 million cruise ship passengers carried each year from U.S. ports
  • Ferry systems transport 180 million passengers annually
  • 110,000 commercial fishing vessels that contribute $111 billion to state economies
  • 8,000 foreign vessels make 50,000 port calls annually
  • Container traffic figures for world ports indicate over 264 million containers were handled in 2002
  • Approximately 70 million recreational boats in the United States
  • Domestic and international trade expected to double in next 20 years

U.S. Maritime Law Enforcement Authority

As the Nation's lead agency for maritime law enforcement and the nation's "maritime first responder," the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) vessels and aircraft patrol both our offshore and coastal regions. The USCG has pushed our borders out and extended our vigilance and awareness of potential approaching threats, enforcing U.S. immigration policies, customs laws, and stopping drug smugglers, all of which strengthen our nation's maritime homeland security. The USCG works in interagency teams with its homeland security partners, such as U. S. Customs, Immigration, Department of Defense, and state and local authorities, to help identify threats far off our coasts and help secure our maritime borders and our homeland. After the catastrophic events of 11 September 2001, many new security initiatives were implemented. If you work on or around the waterfronts of America you probably can attest to some of the changes in seaport, waterway and coastal security protocols.

Building a comprehensive security strategy to protect our seaports, waterways and coastal area is not an easy task. The process of identifying vulnerabilities and implementing security countermeasures in such a complicated global system can only be achieved with total global involvement. International collaboration between the U.S., other Countries, International Organizations and the Import/Export Trade Community has responded and established consistent international policy and security protocols, reducing the overall security risk, and at the same time ensuring that disruption to global trade industry was kept to a minimum.

What is the Threat?

Before 9-11, threats to our nation were always identified as part of the routine security assessment process. To many people, these threats were perceived as possible, but not likely to happen. Only after 9-11, did we as a country recognize that our nation is at a very high-risk to real threats that could result in catastrophic loss of life and loss of national critical infrastructure capabilities. Table 1 identifies what many of us in the security community believe to be the threats ranked from highest to lowest in order of severity.






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Weapons Of Mass Destruction
  • Nuclear
  • Chemical
  • Biological
  • Radiological
  • High quantities of explosives
Direct-threat Contraband (e.g., components of WMD, explosives)
Direct-threat Illegal immigrants (e.g., terrorist operatives)
Indirect-threat contraband (e.g., money, drugs, weapons intended to contribute to terrorist activities)
Economic illegal immigration (e.g., undocumented workers)
Economic contraband (e.g., cigarettes, counterfeit CDs, etc.) Pilferage/theft

Table 1

National Comparison Maritime Security (MARSEC) Condition Levels to the Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS)

To describe increasing threat levels and to identify corresponding activities to meet the threat, the USCG established Maritime Security (MARSEC) levels I, II, and III. These MARSEC levels are tied to the DHS Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS). The table below compares the Coast Guard's MARSEC levels to the DHS HSAS. It is important that you understand what specific security measures will be put in place for your specific location based on the assigned MARSEC level. You can get this information from your Port Authority.

National Comparison Maritime Security (MARSEC)
Condition Levels
to the Homeland Security Alert System (HSAS)
MARSEC Levels HSAS Condition Scope Anticipated Duration Nature of Threat Emphasis Sample Measures
MARSEC III Severe Multiple ports Up to 30 days Incident imminent; response to specific event or intelligence Protection and response Control access to port
MARSEC II High Up to Nationwide Up to 60 days Non-specific threat based on intelligence or other warning Heightened deterrence and detection Increase random security boardings
MARSEC I Elevated Nationwide Continuously General threat against ports, harbors, waterways, and approaches Heightened awareness and preparedness - Baseline deterrence and detection "New Normalcy"

U.S. and Global Community Response to Maritime Security After 9-11

While the International Maritime Organization (IMO), an international organization with U.S. representation, worked to develop the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS), the U.S. drafted the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 (MTSA). Both required total implementation by July 1, 2004. Every day, we know that our adversaries are changing their strategies based on how we change. Both science and technology are key to winning this new kind of war. Partnerships with other Governments, national laboratories, universities and research centers assist us in staying ahead of the threat. We are developing new resources for detecting the presence of nuclear materials in shipping containers and vehicles. We have deployed the next generation of biological and chemical countermeasures and broad-based detection tools, which are sensitive enough to not only alert people to the presence of dangerous pathogens, but also facilitate evacuation.

The ISPS Code was agreed to by 102 countries. It detailed security-related requirements for all Governments, port authorities and shipping companies with a series of guidelines about how to meet these requirements. The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on the Oceans and the law of the sea, specifically welcoming initiatives by the International Maritime Organization to counter the threat to maritime security from terrorism and to encourage States to fully support this endeavor.

The MTSA was signed on November 25, 2002 and is designed to protect U.S. ports and waterways from a terrorist attack. This law is the U.S. equivalent of the ISPS Code, and was fully implemented on July 1, 2004. It requires vessels and port facilities to conduct vulnerability assessments and develop security plans that may include passenger, vehicle and baggage screening procedures; security patrols; establishing restricted areas; personnel identification procedures; access control measures; and installation of surveillance equipment.

By creating a U.S. port security program that is consistent with the international community, we are better able to identify and prevent threats. The MTSA security initiatives were developed with three primary areas of concern (awareness, prevention and response), while focusing on maritime industries that have a potential for higher risk of involvement in a transportation security incident. MTSA also required the establishment committees in all of the nation's ports to coordinate the activities of all port stakeholders, including other federal, local and state agencies, industry and the boating public. These groups, called Area Maritime Security Committees, are tasked with collaborating on plans to secure their ports so that the resources of an area can be best used to deter, prevent and respond to terror threats. Below, you will find numerous operational maritime security strategies that both the U.S. and International maritime communities have implemented or are in the process of implementing.

Implementing Strategy2

In U.S. Waters and On U.S. Shores

National Targeting Center (NTC) - (Prevention & Response) The priority mission of Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP) NTC is to provide tactical targeting and analytical research support for CBP anti-terrorism efforts. Experts in passenger and cargo targeting at the NTC operate around the clock using tools like the Automated Targeting System (ATS) to identify tactical targets and support intra-departmental and inter-agency anti-terrorist operations. The NTC also supports operations in the field including the Container Security Initiative (CSI) personnel stationed at critical foreign ports throughout the world.

Maritime Intelligence Fusion Centers - (Prevention) Located in Norfolk, Va., and Alameda, Ca., these units compile and synthesize intelligence products from the federal, state and local level dealing with maritime security. These intelligence products are then disseminated to homeland security professionals across the country responsible for securing our ports and waterways.

High Interest Vessels Boarding - (Prevention) Before they are allowed to enter port, all vessels are screened for the security risk they pose to the United States based on information about the vessel's cargo, size, voyage, security history and any intelligence information. Those identified as higher risk are targeted for offshore boarding to ensure potential security issues are addressed prior to entry into port. In addition, the Coast Guard randomly selects vessels for security boarding to ensure an element of unpredictability and thus deterrence. Specially trained Coast Guard teams board the boats through traditional water based methods or by fast roping from helicopters.

Operation Port Shield - (Prevention) Operation Port Shield focuses on the implementation and enforcement of the new security measures implemented under the ISPS international requirements or MTSA between June 15 and July 1, 2005. Under this verification program, the Coast Guard will be boarding every vessel, at sea or at the dock, on its first visit to a U.S. port on or after July 1 to ensure that the vessel is compliant with U.S. security standards. These program officers will also visit foreign countries to evaluate antiterrorism measures in place at ports abroad.

Automatic Identification System (AIS) - (Awareness) AIS is a type of vessel-tracking equipment that automatically sends detailed ship information to other ships and shore-based agencies, allowing for comprehensive, virtually instantaneous vessel tracking and monitoring, increasing security and safety in our shipping channels. Currently, most vessels required to use this technology are large vessels on international voyages. The Coast Guard is exploring possible ways to expand these requirements to other vessels and other U.S. waters.

Area Maritime Security Committees - (Awareness, Prevention & Response) The Coast Guard has established committees in all the nation's ports to coordinate the activities of all port stakeholders, including other federal, local and state agencies, industry and the boating public. These groups are tasked with collaborating on plans to secure their ports, so the resources of an area can be best used to deter, prevent and respond to terror threats.

Port Security Assessment Program - (Awareness) This program is aimed at increasing the information and best practices available to port officials across the country to help them make decisions about how to reduce the vulnerability of their ports. The Coast Guard is in the process of closely examining the key infrastructure in the nation's 55 most economically and strategically important ports for potential vulnerabilities.

Port Security Grants - (Awareness, Prevention & Response) The Port Security Grant Program provides federal resources for projects to enhance facility and operational security for critical national seaports. Funds assist ports in analyzing vulnerabilities and then closing gaps in security through physical enhancements like access control gates, fencing, lighting and advanced communication and surveillance systems. The program also funds the implementation of security strategies to prevent and respond to terror threats. Over the past three years, $516 million in grants have been allocated and another $50 million are currently pending review.

Non-Intrusive Inspection Technology (NII) - (Prevention) Non-Intrusive Inspection (NII) technology allows U.S. Customs and Border Protection to screen a larger portion of the stream of commercial traffic in less time while facilitating legitimate trade. CBP officers use large-scale gamma ray and x-ray imaging systems to safely and efficiently screen conveyances for contraband, including weapons of mass destruction. These units can scan the interior of a full-size 40-foot container in under a minute. Inspectors also use personal radiation detectors to scan for signs of radioactive materials, as well as special high-tech tools such as density meters and fiber-optic scopes to peer inside suspicious containers. Finally, if necessary, containers are opened and unloaded for a more intensive manual inspection.

Maritime Safety and Security Teams (MSSTs) - (Prevention & Response) A MSST is a Coast Guard rapid response force assigned to a vital port and capable of nationwide deployment by air, ground or sea transportation to meet emerging threats. MSST's were created in direct response to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. They have unique capabilities, including explosive-detection dogs, personnel trained to conduct fast-roping deployments from a helicopter to a hostile vessel, and anti-terrorism/force protection small boat handling training. Eight teams are currently in operation and five more are scheduled to be commissioned by early 2005.

Guarding In-Between the Ports - (Prevention) Coast Guard, CBP Border Patrol, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Air and Marine Operations units are responsible for patrolling and securing our nation's borders between the ports of entry. During FY04, DHS personnel have apprehended more than 770,000 illegal aliens on land and over 9,000 at sea. By adding additional personnel, equipment and technology, the Department of Homeland Security has been able to broaden the areas of coverage. Through strong enforcement operations and the state of the art technology at the borders, the department has enhanced its operational effectiveness on the front line.

Operation Drydock - (Awareness & Prevention) This Coast Guard and FBI investigation into national security threats and document fraud associated with U.S. merchant mariner credentials revealed nine individuals linked to terrorist groups that held maritime credentials. Merchant mariner credentials are often used as an identification document that allows mariners to come and go from the ship while it is docked in a foreign port. This investigation, enhancements to the criminal background check process for applicants, and increased security features on the cards themselves, have increased the U.S. Government's ability to monitor crews of the U.S. merchant fleet.

Transportation Workers Identity Card (TWIC) - (Awareness & Prevention) The goal of the TWIC program is to develop a secure uniform credential to prevent potential terrorist threats from entering sensitive areas of our transportation system. When implemented, the TWIC program will ensure that credentials contain a biometric identifier to positively authenticate identities of TWIC holders. By having one universally recognized credential, workers avoid paying for redundant cards and background investigations to enter secure areas at multiple facilities. The Prototype Phase will be conducted at 35 facilities in six states, including the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, and the fourteen major port facilities in the state of Florida. The prototype is funded with $50 million included in Homeland Security's Transportation Security Administration (TSA) budget and up to 200,000 port workers are expected to participate.

America's Waterways Watch - (Awareness) The goal of America's Waterway Watch is to help prevent acts of terrorism and other illegal activity that jeopardize maritime homeland security by having members of the maritime and recreational boating industries, as well as the boating public, recognize and report to appropriate authorities suspicious activity that may be an indicator of potential terrorism. Any observations of suspicious or unusual activity could be extremely valuable to our national security and may provide clues to help uncover patterns of possible terrorist activity. Reports can be made to the Coast Guard, local law enforcement, or by calling 1-877-24-WATCH.

Global Security Initiatives

Overseas In Port

24-Hour Advanced Manifest Rule - (Awareness) All sea carriers with the exception of bulk carriers and approved break bulk cargo carriers, are required to provide proper cargo descriptions and valid consignee addresses 24 hours before cargo is loaded at the foreign port for shipment to the United States through the Sea Automated Manifest System. Failure to meet the 24-hour Advanced Manifest Rule results in a "do not load" message and other penalties. Through this program, administered by CBP, the department has greater awareness of what is being loaded onto ships bound for the United States and the advance information enables DHS to evaluate the terrorist risk from sea containers.

Container Security Initiative (CSI) - (Awareness & Prevention) Under the CSI program, the screening of containers that pose a risk for terrorism is accomplished by teams of CBP officials deployed to work in concert with their host nation counterparts. Nineteen of the top twenty ports have agreed to join CSI and are at various stages of implementation. These twenty ports account for approximately 66 percent of sea containers shipped to the United States.

Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) - (Awareness & Prevention) Through C-TPAT, thousands of importers, carriers, brokers, forwarders, ports and terminals, and foreign manufacturers have taken the necessary steps to secure their supply chains. Under the C-TPAT initiative, business participants providing verifiable security information are eligible for special benefits. The security enhancements put in place by C-TPAT participant allow DHS to devote more resources to high-risk shipments.

International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code - Awareness & Prevention) By July 1, 2004, countries around the world will have implemented the first multilateral ship and port security standard ever created. The ISPS Code requires vessels and port facilities to conduct security assessments, develop security plans and hire security officers. By establishing a standard for security, the world has increased its ability to prevent maritime related attacks by making ports around the world more aware of unusual or suspicious activity.

International Port Security Program - (Awareness & Prevention) Under this effort, the U.S. Coast Guard and the host nations will work jointly to evaluate overall national compliance with the ISPS Code. The Coast Guard will use the information gained from these visits to improve the United States' own security practices and to determine if additional security precautions will be required for vessels arriving in the United States from other countries.

Operation Safe Commerce (OSC) - (Awareness & Prevention) This pilot program analyzes security in the commercial supply chain and tests solutions to close security gaps. The technologies tested in the program will enhance maritime cargo security, protect the global supply chain, and facilitate the flow of commerce. DHS has awarded $58 million in grants to the private sector since its inception and will award another $17 million to private companies.

In Transit

Smart Box Initiative - (Prevention) One core element of CSI is using smarter, "tamper evident" containers that will better secure containerized shipping. Designed to be "tamper evident," the Smart Box couples an internationally approved mechanical seal affixed to an alternate location on the container door with an electronic container security device designed to deter and detect tampering of the container door. If someone attempts to open the cargo door after it has been sealed, the Smart Box device on the door would reflect that there had been an attempted intrusion into the container. Together with the results of technology testing, Operation Safe Commerce, DHS will have valuable information to assist in developing performance standards for container security.

Ship Security Alert System (SSAS) - (Response) Like a silent alarm in a bank, a SSAS allows a vessel operator to send a covert alert to shore for incidents involving acts of violence, (such as piracy or terrorism), indicating that the security of the ship is threatened or has been compromised. The International Ship and Port Facility Security Code required new passenger and cargo ships of at least 500 gross tons to install this equipment by July 1, 2004. Existing passenger vessels and cargo vessels must have the equipment installed prior to the first radio survey after July 1, 2004, or by July 1, 2006. Other types of vessels may carry and use SSAS voluntarily.

Automated Targeting System (ATS) - (Awareness) CBP's ATS serves as the premier tool for performing transactional risk assessments and evaluating potential national security risks posed by cargo and passengers arriving by sea, air, truck, and rail. Using pre-arrival information and input from the intelligence community, this rules-based system identifies high-risk targets before they arrive in the United States.

96-Hour Advance Notice of Arrival - (Awareness & Prevention) Ships must notify the Coast Guard 96 hours before arriving in a U.S. port and provide detailed information on the crew, passenger, cargo and voyage history. This information is analyzed using databases and intelligence information, including reviewing previous security problems with the vessel or illegal activity on the part of the crew. Part of this analysis will also account for the security environment in previous ports of call. By obtaining this information well in advance of a vessels arrival, the U.S. Coast Guard is able to make determinations about which vessels require additional attention, including security precautions such as an at-sea boarding or armed escort during transit to and from port.

The Proliferation Security Initiative - (Prevention) This initiative seeks to stop the flow of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), in part by boarding suspect vessels and seizing WMD-related cargoes, as exercised here in October 2004 by naval forces from Japan, Australia, France, and the United States.


Protecting our seaports and waterways is such an enormous and vital task. It is easy to see and understand the relationship between our seaports and the global transportation infrastructure. Knowing what we now know about our enemies and their capabilities, failure by any nation to implement and execute a sound maritime security plan can be only labeled as a national suicide waiting to happen. I want take this time to credit and thank both the United States Coast Guard3 and the International Maritime Organization4 for the work they have done in the area of developing policy and assisting the maritime community in the implementation of the new maritime security initiatives. There is one last maritime security resource that I have not yet written of, and that is you. The people working and living around the seaports and waterway play a very important part in the overall security implementation plan. If you see suspicious activity report it immediately to your local port security or law enforcement office.


1 Coast Guard Port Security Initiatives Post 9/11/2001, DHS April 7, 2004 Presentation

2 Secure Seas, Open Ports, Keeping our waters safe, secure and open for business Department of Homeland Security, June 21, 2004

3 United Stated Coast Guard Internet Website:

4 International Maritime Organization Website

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