Security of the Maritime Domain – A Global Perspective


The security of the maritime domain encompasses a field so vast and a feat so daunting that it boggles the imagination. Since a relatively large number of people travel by air as opposed to sea, the fact that over 90% of the world’s cargo by volume gets transported through the medium of the sea, easily gets lost sight of. And again, let’s face it, while many of us get to have a first hand look at aerial security simply through seeing off or receiving an acquaintance at the local airport, the concept of maritime security is much more difficult to grasp, let alone assimilate.

Familiarizing the uninitiated with the intricacies of global maritime security is like taking them on a roller coaster ride through uncharted waters and fancy acronyms. The action really started heating up on the maritime security front in the post 9/11 period and that’s where the thread of the narrative needs to be picked up from. Hitherto, all stakeholders, inclusive of governments, shipping lines, shippers, port authorities etc had been reluctant, their natural worries notwithstanding, to initiate large scale security measures in view of exorbitant costs and it’s adverse impact on world trade.

Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT)

The newly – formed US Department of Homeland Security, taking stock of the visible loopholes and under pressure to make America safer, immediately initiated the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) to build cooperative relationships that strengthen the overall supply chain. This was a sensible move since most of the key US infrastructure is privately – owned. Inherent in this partnership is the recognition that a high level of security could only be ensured through close cooperation with the ultimate owners of the supply chain – importers, carriers, brokers, warehouse operators and manufacturers. In return for enhancing their security measures and making their internal procedures more transparent, C-TPAT members were assured of benefits in the form of reduced border inspections. A low-risk designation is accorded to a company if it’s past compliance history and security profile have been validated.

Though amongst the most controversial, this is definitely the fastest growing initiative, with its membership base growing from 5600 to over 10,800 seven years later. This is all the more creditable as companies are required to fulfill a stringent criteria for participation and can only qualify if their entire supply chain qualifies.

It was later thought fit to team up with other like-minded industry partnership programs to create a unified security posture. After signing its first Mutual Recognition Arrangement(MAR) with New Zealand in 2007, C-TPAT has eight other countries in its fold, apart from the European Union. This link-up is only achieved when these programs are found to be compatible with C-TPAT, so that any one program recognises the validation findings of the others.

Container Security Initiative (CSI)

The Container Security Initiative (CSI) was subsequently announced amidst great fanfare by the Commissioner of the US Bureau of Customs within four months of the 9/11 attacks, the underlying concept being that ocean-going containers (through which the bulk of the world trade was being conducted) posed a major terrorism risk and needed to be screened prior shipment from foreign ports; or in the words of the CBP, to ‘extend the zone of security outward, so that American borders are the last line of defence, not the first’.

The initial target of getting the top 20 ports, shipping over two-thirds of the container volume to the US, into the loop, was incredibly met within 2½ years. The carrot of smooth access of such pre-screened containers to US ports apparently worked. To be fair to the US, the principle of reciprocity has been enshrined in the initiative, enabling countries allowing the stationing of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers to post their own officials in turn to US ports, as well as to receive information on a bilateral basis. Participation was later made open to anyort meeting certain volume, equipment, procedural and information sharing requirements.

The 24-hr

Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA)

While the US Coast Guard was strongly agitating the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for codification of security measures of ships and ports, it was simultaneously formulating its own domestic legislation, the aptly named Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA). Through enacted a little earlier to the ISPS code which it was supposed to implement, MTSA regulations are more comprehensive, affecting primarily those sectors of the maritime industry that were deemed to have a higher risk of involvement in a transportation security incident.

International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code

The new International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) code was tabled in December 2002 at an IMO – sponsored conference as an amendment to the existing Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention (1974/1988) and its compliance became mandatory for the 148 contracting parties to SOLAS. This ISPS code has been formulated as a two-part document in which Part A provides mandatory requirement for governments, port authorities and shipping companies while Part B provides guidance for implementation. Each contracting government was required to prepare and implement port facility security plans based on security assessment and risk evaluation. All ships were required, amongst other things, to carry a Continuous Synopsis Record (CSR) and have an Automatic Information System (AIS) as well as a Ship Security Alert System (SSAS) fitted on board.

Mega Ports Initiative (MPI)

The Mega Ports Initiative (MPI) cropped up in 2003 as part of a layered multi-agency approach targeting the smuggling and use of WMDs in attacks against the US or its global partners. Unlike the CSI, MPI was sponsored by the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) office of Second Line of Defense (SLD) and did not envisage stationing of US personnel in foreign ports. DOE does however provide radiation detection equipment to screen shipping containers entering and leaving these ports, regardless of the container destination.

The initiative was designed to primarily focus on engaging countries that have ports ranked in the top 50 by DOEs Maritime Prioritization Model, which ranks ports in terms of their relative attractiveness to potential nuclear smugglers. Ports of special interest, however, that may be ranked lower than 50 are also being pursued. Limited success has been achieved so far because of the concern of some countries that screening large volumes of containers will create delays that could inhibit the flow of commerce at their ports.

Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI)

Another initiative that hogged the limelight when it was formally unveiled on 31 May 2003 in Poland by no less a person than the US President George W. Bush, is the aptly – titled Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a controversial US-led multi-national initiative involving the interdiction of third country ships on the high seas on the suspicion of carrying nuclear materials.

The step was not only ill-timed and ill-advised but brash, like most of the Bush Administration’s decisions at the time, augmenting the general impression that international law, guaranteeing freedom of the seas in this case, held no significance for the Administration. A belated endeavour was thereafter made by the US to have a UN Security Council Resolution, supporting the PSI passed. The unanimously adopted resolution which emerged on 28 April 2004 was a watered – down version of what the US was espousing, only calling on all states to take cooperative action to prevent trafficking in WMD.

The legal position is interesting. Under the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention and customary international law, ships enjoy considerable freedom on the high seas. A ship on the high seas can technically be stopped and searched by foreign naval or coast guard vessels only in situations of slave trading, piracy, illicit narcotics trafficking or unauthorized broadcasting, but which does not extend to carrying of nuclear or other inherently dangerous or noxious substances. The PSI idea itself appears to have emerged out of the frustration felt by the Bush Administration on the release of 15 Scud missiles discovered on board a North Korean freighter in December 2002 since international law did not permit them to be confiscated.

As things stand today, nearly a hundred countries have formally committed to the ‘Statement of Interdiction Principles that guides PSI cooperation, with participating countries being encouraged to sign bilateral ship-boarding agreements that allow partner states to quickly gain access to a ship or aircraft as soon as it enters the so-called PSI territory. On its part, the US has signed such bilateral agreements with nine countries that individually maintain a large number of commercial vessels on their registers. Two key gaps still remain in the PSI framework; firstly, that the boarding agreements may allow for boarding but not necessarily cargo seizure and secondly, that it is not applicable to government transportation. These can and are being exploited to circumvent the restrictions sought to be imposed through PSI.

Security and Accountability for Every Port Act 2006 (SAFE PORT ACT)

The Security and Accountability for Every Port Act of 2006 (or SAFE Port Act), signed into US law on 13 Oct 2006, codified a number of programs geared to strengthen port and ocean transportation security as well as security within the supply chain. The Act sought to improve the Automated Targeting System (ATS) designed to identify high risk containers before they reach the US and to hasten the installation of radiation detection devices at 22 of the busiest US ports by the end of 2007. The Act also mandated an April 01, 2007 deadline for the US customs to track all large commercial vessels within US waters, which was met.

Secure Freight Initiative (SFI)

The Secure Freight Initiative (SFI), officially launched on 7 December 2006 by the US Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Energy (DOE), is meant to utilize integrated technology including radiation portal monitors, non-intrusive imaging equipment and optical character recognition, to examine a greater number of US-bound containers, not just those deemed to be high risk, without impeding the flow of commerce.

Meeting the legislative requirements of the SAFE Port Act, the first three SFI selected ports (Ports Cortes, Honduras; Port Qasim, Pakistan and Southampton UK) became fully operational on 12 Oct 2007 and are currently scanning 100% of US-bound containers. The long term goal is to scan all US-bound containers by 2012, a target which appears unlikely to be met, considering the mammoth nature of the enterprise.

An Advanced Security Filing Program (10+2) was later incorporated by the US Customs as a component of the Secure Freight Initiative and which requires importers and ocean carriers to electronically submit 10+2 additional pieces of information (10 by the former, two by the latter) to enhance the security of the maritime environment

Detailed analysis is conducted at the US Customs and Border Protection’s National Targeting Centre using SFI data in conjunction with Advance Manifest Data, such as 24 hr rule information, C-TPAT information and the Automated Targeting System, to assess the risk of each container coming to the US. The integrated data generated by the SFI provides important information on all containers regardless of destination, and which is shared with host nations to strengthen the overall security of the global supply chain.

Impact on Pakistan

Anyone who has reached this far down the article, deserves an answer to the million dollar question he must be straining to ask: But how does all of this impact Pakistan. Put very simply, there is no option for us but to follow the ISPS Code, not only because it is mandatory, but because it is in our own best interest. All other initiatives like CSI, MPI, PSI and SFI, though not legally binding, can also only be ignored at our peril since access of Pakistani goods to US markets would be at stake.

Soon after the CSI program took hold, containers carrying Pakistani goods had to be re-routed through Hong Kong, Colombo or Salalah for scanning, prior to being allowed entry into the United States. Port Qasim was however amongst the first two seaports selected for implementation of SFI, which was originally termed as Integrated Cargo Container Control (IC3) when the declaration of principles was signed with the US in early March 2006. What was then conceived as a bilateral arrangement widened into the SFI after the passage of the SAFE Port Act 2006. All containers destined for the US began to be scanned at QICT by October 2007, while data transmission to the CBPs National Targeting Centre commenced on 3 May 2009.

KPT also appears keen to have a similar scanning arrangement with US Authorities at its container terminals (KICT & PICT) to enable direct access to US ports.

Contrary to the general perception, Pakistan is deriving dual benefit from this arrangement; firstly, cargo once scanned at Port Qasim is not subject to re-examination on arrival at US ports, thereby benefiting Pakistani exporters, and secondly, regional shippers have also started routing containers bound for the US through Port Qasim in anticipation of faster processing at US seaports, thereby indirectly benefiting Port Qasim.

PSI admittedly provided a cause for alarm at the time, more out of the Bush Administration’s gung ho way of doing things rather than anything else. This scare dissipated once it became clear that the initiative itself ran afoul of international law and its execution itself was hampered by several legal limitations.

Our natural distrust of anything being spearheaded by the US notwithstanding, the fact remains that none of these initiatives are Pakistan-specific. They were driven by the lingering concern of the United States for the security of its 361 seaports and the millions of containers that pass through them. These concerns became something of an obsession in the wake of the 9/11 attacks when the realization sunk home that even a single WMD scare at any of the major US ports had the potential of shutting down that port and creating economic chaos in the global economy.


The ISPS code expects all maritime states to act responsibly in beefing up their port and ship related security measures and ensuring that security incidents are thwarted. Pakistan is doing its bit and must continue to do all it can to ensure its own security and by extension that of the global maritime community. We have already allowed our land to become a hotbed of terrorism. We cannot afford its spillover in the maritime domain.

Note: This formed the basis of a talk delivered at the 4th International Maritime Conference on 8 March 2011 at Karachi. It was also published in the PN War College Review 2010-11.


  1. Avatar Commodore(Retd) Muhammad Naim June 6, 2012 at 5:25 AM

    A very good and extremely relevant article.Have you any update on KPT’s effort to obtain the scanning facility?

    In the subheading “Impact on Pakistan” 2nd para for Integrated Cargo Container Control you have given acronym of IS3! Is it correct or should it have been IC3 ?

  2. pervaizpervaiz June 13, 2012 at 9:55 AM

    Thanks! From what I know some scanning equipment has been installed through a private contractor for security purposes. No headway on the US front though.Valid observation regarding IC3. Typo has been corrected.

  3. Avatar Mushtaq Ahmed June 26, 2012 at 8:36 AM

    Apparently all this hullabaloo is for the security of the US. What about other countries like Pakistan. Like weapons for the terrorists smuggled into Pakistan from other countries?

    1. pervaizpervaiz August 1, 2012 at 7:45 AM

      I’m afraid each country has to look after its own interests.

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