Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, security has remained high on the list of priorities in the marine sector and progress has been swift. However, security remains an ongoing process.

US ports have made great strides to improve their security technology and screening processes, but they continue to analyse evolving threats to stay one step ahead of those who would disrupt shipping or endanger life. “Various vulnerabilities have
been reduced, though some areas remain exposed, which are more difficult to tackle,” says Captain James Watson of the US Coast Guard (USCG)’s Office of Budget and Programs in Washington.

“We have closed some gaps since 9/11, particularly in terms of access control and the screening of passengers and baggage. Cruise business was an area we focused on early and the processes are now in good shape.”

“Various vulnerabilities have been reduced, though some areas remain exposed, which are more difficult to tackle.”

Screening processes still face many challenges, which are being addressed in part by the development of new technologies, but port authorities and agencies such as the USCG have found that they did not have to come up with any new systems to
counteract the new breed of threat. As they continue to monitor potential vulnerabilities, their track record in safeguarding people and vessels using US ports has laid a firm foundation from which to address new risks.

“Between the 1970s and the 1990s we did a lot of work to improve the safety environment,” says Watson. “In the twenty-first century, there are new challenges, but the basic construct of the roles of shipowners, unions, port authorities, government
agencies and industry bodies was well established.”


Enhancing port security has in part been dependent on implementing advanced technology, aimed at providing more accurate data on individuals and cargo, as well as surveillance and response systems. Sophisticated cameras, lighting systems, ID cards and
scanners have been widely installed, as have technologies that improve screening of passenger lists, crew and port staff. This has been backed up by improvements in communication channels between enforcement agencies.


The combined efforts of such agencies, along with local and state government bodies and the shipping industry, have focused heavily on shoreside access control in recent years. They are now turning their attention to new areas where vulnerabilities
may arise. “We focused on the waterside situation, which can be a challenge in some ports,” says Watson. “It’s difficult to establish a single line of defence because of the geography of some locations, but we want to know that there are no surprises
underneath or next to a ship.”

Control of waterside access to vessels and docks is still a challenge. So far, the response has been to increase the number of patrols by USCG vessels, enabled by an increase in federal grants. There has been wider consultation on coordinating the
roles of industry and enforcement agencies in limiting public access from the waterside, but further action is required. “Waterside access control is a work in progress, but we are working on a risk-based perspective, with patrols responding to the
number of ships that are in a port on any given day,” notes Watson. “We’ve security buffer zones for large ships that might be potential targets. Once the surface protection from patrols is in place, the next issue is underwater protection.”

“Waterside access control is a work in progress.”

The USCG has unveiled a new series of sonar systems and robotic devices designed to protect large vessels from potential underwater attacks in US ports. Designed and built over the last two years, these devices will target the detection of people or
devices active below the surface of the water. Along with such developments, the future will see ports in the US focus more heavily on more stringent, coordinated identification systems for port workers, crew and transport workers delivering supplies for

There will be greater integration of networks through which the USCG and other agencies in the intelligence community share information with each other, and with ports, industry bodies and shipping operators. Ultimately, the goal is to implement a
strategy that draws on the best systems, processes, data and response strategies to ensure that cruiseships, and other vessels, are protected and carry no threat to the US homeland. With the advances made so far, cruiseships, their operators and
passengers can be optimistic about the results.