Maritime Security – Requirements for Vessel Security Officer


A Ship Security Officer (SSO)/Vessel Security Officer is designated on each ship. He is responsible for implementation of the Ship’s Security Plan (SSP), training of shipboard personal, reporting security incidents, co-coordinating with the Company Security Officer (CSO) and Port Facility Security Officer (PFSO), and ensuring that security equipment is properly operated, tested, calibrated, and maintained.

SOLAS deals with “Special Measures to Enhance Maritime Security.” It requires ship, companies, and port facilities to comply with the International Code for Security of Ships and Port Facilities (ISPS).This ISPS code is applicable to all ships on international voyages, except cargo ships of less than 500 GT, and port facilities serving ships on international voyages.

Administration of the contracting government designates a competent authority that is responsible for the maritime security within and in the vicinity of its territory. The administration may designate a Recognized Security Organization (RSO) for security assessments, preparedness of security plans, and verification of the security systems. The administration approves the security plans and issues certificates after reviewing the reports of verification of the system.

Vessel Security Officer

VSO - Vessel Security Officer

Ship Security Level

All ships shall be provided with a Ship Security Alert System for transmitting the alert to the shore based authority, designated by the administration-named Vessel Security Officer. The alert identifies the ship, its location, and indicates that the security of the ship is under threat or it has been compromised. This system is activated from secret location known only to the Master, SSO, and deputy SSO. It operates through the ship’s radio system or independent radio system without requiring any adjustment. If the system is powered through the ship’s main, there shall be an alternative source of power to operate it. When it is activated, the system should continue the alert until deactivated and reset. It does not send the alert to other ships or raise any alarm on the ship itself.

The administration establishes security levels 1, 2, and 3 for the ships and port facilities under its jurisdiction, as per the risks involved. It includes requirements for a declaration of security, which is an agreement between the Ship Security Officer (SSO)/Vessel Security Officer and the Port Facility Security Officer (PFSO) specifying how the security requirements are shared between them.

The shipping company shall designate a Company Security Officer (CSO) for one or more ships. The CSO is responsible for development, approval, implementation, and maintenance of the Ship Security Plan (SSP). He arranges audits and verification of the SSP by the administration or Recognized Security Organization (RSO), and correction of any deficiencies. He ensures adequate training of personnel responsible for the security of the ship. He shall ensure effective cooperation between the SSO and PFSO. The company shall give adequate support to the CSO master and SSO for compliance with the ISPS Code.

Ships security at level 1 includes controlling access to the ship and embarkation of persons monitoring restricted area, deck areas and area surrounding the ship, supervising loading of cargos and stores, and ensuring that the security communication is readily available. These measures are maintained at all times.

At level 2 additional measures as specified in the SSP are maintained for a period of time of heightened risks.

At level 3 further protective measures as specified in the SSP are maintained for limited period of time when a security incident is probable or imminent.

The CSO ensures that the ship security is assessed by a RSO. The assessment is documented, reviewed, accepted, and retained by the company.

Port Facility Security Plan

The Port Facility Security Plan (PFSP) is approved by the administration. The security at level 1 includes controlling access to the port facility and restricted areas, monitoring berthing and anchoring areas, supervising handling of cargo and ship’s stores, and ensuring that security communication is readily available.

Additional measures as specified in the PFSP are maintained at the level 2 for a period of heightened risks, and level 3 when the security incident is probable or imminent.

Port facility security assessments are carried out by the RSO. It is reviewed and approved by the administration. The assessment includes identification of important assets and infrastructure, possible threats, security measures, effectiveness and weakness in the infrastructure, policies and procedures.

The PFSP is prepared by the RSO and approved by the administration. It includes measures to prevent unauthorized carriage of weapons or dangerous substance, measures to prevent unauthorized access to port or ships or restricted areas, procedures for shore leave of crew, crew changes, and access by visitors. The plan is protected from unauthorized access or disclosure.

The administration decides which port facilities should have a security officer. A PFSO is designated to one or more port facilities. He is responsible for security assessments and training of security persons.

He shall ensure proper operation, testing, and maintenance of security equipment and coordination with the CSO, SSO, and Security services.

The master shall not be constrained by the company or any other person from making any decision in the interest of safety and security of the ship. In the event of any conflict between safety and security requirements, the master shall give effect to the safety requirements and implement temporary security measures. Flags and ports state administration shall be informed so that the conflict can be resolved and the possibility of recurrence shall be minimized.

When the master of a ship intends to enter a foreign port, he shall inform the concerned authority details of the ISPS certificate, security levels at which the ship is currently operating, and levels maintained during last ten calls. The authority may require inspection of the ship and rectification of non-compliance.

Image Credits

Wikipedia Images – Vessel Security Officer