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A Focus on Counterterrorism Efforts in the Maritime Sector

By: de Lesa Hanson*

Guyana Journal, December 2012

The interconnected nature of the modern globalized world makes security issues a multidimensional issue. Partnerships between states, private industry, and multilateral organizations play an essential role in the establishment of counterterrorism norms in all sectors, particularly within areas of Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP). Exponential growth of the global economic sector has promoted the importance of the maritime sector to international trade. Recent estimates suggest that more than 90 percent of global trade is transported by sea1. Therefore, security efforts to protect the Maritime sector and key Ports of Entry, which serve as the stationary instruments for transit of goods, are essential to the global economy. This document examines the actors that participate in the Maritime security regime, existing practices in place, and recommendations for overall improvement based on industry findings.


The interconnected nature of the modern globalized world makes security issues a multidimensional issue. Partnerships between states, private industry, and multilateral organizations play an essential role in the establishment of counterterrorism norms in all sectors, particularly within areas of Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP). Exponential growth of the global economic sector has promoted the importance of the maritime sector to international trade. Recent estimates suggest that more than 90 percent of global trade is transported by sea. Therefore, security efforts to protect the Maritime sector and key Ports of Entry, which serve as the stationary instruments for transit of goods, are essential to the global economy. To what extent does the current International Maritime security regime contribute to the National Security Strategies developed by the United States? This document examines the international and domestic actors that participate in the Maritime security, existing practices in place, and recommendations for overall improvement based on industry findings.

Homeland Security Strategic Development

The United States Government (USG) response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 refocused the Counterterrorism efforts of the Executive Branch, notably within the existing National Security structure. The subsequent reorganizations developed were based upon accepted recommendations of the 9/11 Commission and specialized governmental bodies. The Initial US Legislative proposal, that is, Authorization for Use of Military Force Act, received rapid implementation and led the way for implementation of the Global War on Terror (GWOT). Followed by a quick succession of complementary Acts, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was established to serve as the coordinating umbrella for Domestic security agencies. The third element of the counterterrorism effort was the reorganization of the Intelligence Community (IC) and formation of the Office of the Directorate of National Intelligence (ODNI). Adjustments to the structure, an identification of leadership, and defining roles and responsibility of those accountable within the Security community have, and will remain, an ongoing effort.

To be effective, Homeland Security directives and goals need to have clearly stated priorities, as well as defined missions, goals, and scope. The White House, in conjunction with DHS, provides the framework for strategic policy for counterterrorism, national and homeland security. The strategies are numerous in volume and specifics, yet overlapping in message. The 2010 National Security Strategy (NSS) is the most recent offering provided. However, the 2007 National Strategies for Homeland Security was the guiding document produced by the White House, which incorporated the National Security Strategy of 2006 and the National Security Strategy for Combating Terrorism of 2007. The 2007 NSS provided the framework for organizing, unifying, and guiding the US Homeland Security efforts. The document further emphasized the role of DHS: 1) in preventing and disrupting attacks, 2) protecting the people and infrastructure and key resources, and 3) response to and recovery from incidents.

Critical Infrastructure Security

Critical infrastructures are those people, things, and systems that must be intact and operational in order to make daily living and working possible. A disruption to a US domestic or major trading partner's Port of Entry has the potential to affect, negatively, the health of the global economy. The USA PARTRIOT Act of 2001 defines critical infrastructures as systems and assets, so vital to the United States that their incapacity or destruction would have a debilitating impact on security, national economic security, or public safety2. Required in Homeland Security Presidential Directive-7 and the National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP), the Sector Partnership Framework works to assist government and public-private collaborations. These collaborative efforts include information sharing, and industry engagement in all sectors of CIP activity.

Successful critical infrastructure protection (CIP) requires coordination and collaboration between DHS and other federal agencies, the industry owners and operators, and State and local government3. The creation of a DHS program, the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN), has increased outreach to industry practitioners. The HSIN serves as the primary information-sharing platform for critical sector stakeholders to communicate, coordinate, and share information in support of the Sector Partnership Framework. The engagement effort has grown to include the participation of international and multilateral organizations. Comprised of representatives from DHS and other public entities, each of the CI sectors, members have joined to perform operating functions in the form of Government Coordinating Councils (GCCs).

Potential Threats

The Maritime sector is key, indirectly and directly to national defense, law enforcement, social and economic goals and objectives of most countries. Measuring more than 95,000 miles, the United States has one of the world's longest coastlines, and the world's largest Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The U.S. marine transportation system (MTS) is comprised of 361 ports and thousands of miles of maritime routes that support 95 percent of U.S. foreign trade; most of which is transported on over 7,500 vessels that annually make more than 60,000 visits to U.S. ports. Calendar year 2011 statistics exceeded these averages significantly4. In 2011, a reported 9,326 individual vessels, from 85 different Flag Administrations, made 79,031 port calls to the United States. The ever-increasing volume of U.S. trade dictates the need for focused, USG leadership in Maritime Security efforts.

Despite the recognition of issues and global support of the Port and shipping security regime, threats persist. The most glaring threat to maritime security is presented by the disparity gap in capabilities and practices of Ports in lesser-developed states. According to the National Counterterrorism Center's (NCTC) Report on Terrorism for 2011, attacks against infrastructure or facilities made up two-thirds of all worldwide terrorist attacks5. Transportation infrastructure specifically, incurred damage in nearly 27 percent of the reported attacks. Most of these attacks occurred in the Near East and South Asia, accounting for over 75 percent of total terrorist attacks. Though the reported attacks are significantly clustered, and have yet to affect major international shipping ports, these data points indicate a trend that attacks on already weak states will intensify in frequency and severity. Capacity building by capable states and organizations will be crucial to securing the maritime security system.

International Maritime Organization

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is a specialized United Nations agency, with the stated mission to “develop and maintain comprehensive regulatory framework for safety and security in shipping.” Since 1959, the IMO has carried out these goals with an ever growing membership, (currently 170 states and 3 non-state actors), Permanent Secretariat (300 employees), and the member elected Secretary General. The IMO has been an instrumental contributor to the sixteen legal instruments, which exist to universally criminalize specific terrorist acts. The resolutions, notably the IMO's International Convention for the Safety of Life At Sea (SOLAS), seek to specify minimum standards for the construction, equipment, and operation of ships. SOLAS became effective in 1974, and has since been amended to reflect new threats to maritime security. The latest amendment to SOLAS was enacted shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the provisions include measures through chapter XI - 2, for implementation of the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS Code).

The ISPS Code is a two-part comprehensive set of measures to enhance the security of ships and port facilities. The Code considers ships and port facilities a risk management activity and determines security measures appropriateness by requiring an assessment of the risks on a case-by-case basis6. Adherence to the ISPS Code is mandatory for the 148 Contracting parties to SOLAS. Observance of the Code will reduce the vulnerability of the industry to attack, and effectively counter the threat and thus reducing the risk. The enactment of the code is an example of the collaborative efforts necessary to counter terrorism and transnational crime.

United States Coast Guard

The DHS - United States Coast Guard (USCG) defines maritime security risk as “a function of threat, vulnerability, and consequence”. Due to the scale, complexity, and impact on the Nation's economy, the U.S. MTS is a target, susceptible to attack by terrorists and abuse from transnational criminal organizations. To counter these potential issues, the USCG has implemented the International Port Security Program (IPS) since 2004. The IPS program was mandated in 2002, by the U.S. Congress passage of the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA). The duty of the Act was delegated to the USCG by DHS to assess anti-terrorism security measures at foreign ports. The 2006 passage of the Security and Accountability for Every (SAFE) Port Act modified the MTSA and granted the USCG more personnel and funding to carry out the prescribed mandates in MTSA.

Current USCG IPS programs use data-driven decision-making processes to implement assessment findings. The program, comprised of 60 employees, conducts training and assessments with the 149 international trading partners. During the consultation, a three-pronged approach is the goal: 1) Government Engagement, 2) Port Visits, and 3) U.S. Embassy collaboration. Each country has different levels of capability, so the USCG uses the IMOs ISPS Code as the primary benchmark for determining adequate anti-terrorism measures. Because the IMO did not create a verification mechanism to assess the implementation, the USCG has taken up the task. To date, the USCG is the only entity checking international port facility security implementation7. International training opportunities are provided by the USCG International Affairs office, and via partnerships with the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). While the USCG plays an active role in the international arena, the primary goal is to reduce risk to the U.S. homeland.

The USCG also promotes initiatives to extend maritime domain awareness through long-range tracking, promotion of information sharing via the Notice of Arrivals/Automatic Identification Systems, and standardize crew identification documents. Biometric collection and analysis is now utilized via the United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-Visit). An expansion of the at-sea capabilities are expected to assist in the prosecution of persons engaged in illegal maritime activities.

Transportation Security Administration

In conjunction with DHS - USCG, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) under DHS is also focused on strengthening maritime transportation security through a risk and technology based approach. The TSA evaluates vulnerabilities and mitigates threats across all potential means. The allocation of grants for the Port Security Grant Program (PSGP) is awarded based on potential risk to critical port infrastructure from terrorist related incidents. Grants are also provided in support of the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC). TSA has initiated a stakeholder collaboration known as Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR). Teams of Canine units, Behavior Detection Officers, Federal Air Marshalls, and Transportation Inspectors provide state and local law enforcement with the necessary capabilities to prevent and disrupt potential terrorist planning activities. The VIPR operations are conducted at cruise line and ferry locations in conjunction with the USCG.

Environmental Protection Agency

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plays an important and often overlooked role in Maritime security. The EPA provides screening and detection capabilities for the industry. A large majority of the shipped cargo is transported via 20-foot Car Equivalent Units (CEU). These containers are often contaminated with radioactive material from transporting recycled scrap and semi-finished metal. The EPA's Clean Materials Program employs four types of detectors for illicit and dangerous materials: 1) Personal Radiation Detector, 2) Radiation Portal Monitor, 3) Radiation Isotope Identifiers, and 4) Large-scale Gamma ray/ X-ray Imaging Systems. Detection equipment is provided to the U.S. Port private sector partners for installation. The EPA will also respond to Ports if radioactive materials pose a potential threat at a U.S. port of entry.

Since 2004, the EPA works in concurrence with representatives from twenty countries to collaborate as a Group of Experts. The Group of Experts has identified three needs for the future: 1) Voluntary international recommendations, 2) International training and capacity building programs, and 3) Internet based international information exchange. The latest recommendations include a plan to support governments and stakeholders within the metal processing industry to engage them in implementing recommendations.

Findings and Recommendations

The agencies and entities that work to protect the Maritime security arena have had success in their endeavor in their missions. Prior to 9/11, the international and domestic security regime for ports and port facilities were limited to scope and unclear in effort. Continued efforts to secure stakeholder partnerships and defined metrics for assessments will provide the comprehensive and dynamic security regime necessary for the transformative terrorist threat. A continual emphasis is needed to the private industry of the important role, which the private sector plays in an effective security effort. These should include the sharing of best practices and building of public - private partnerships. The opportunity to build these relationships will create a more prepared and durable nation.

Enforcement of existing rules, such as the SAFE Port Act's Importer Security Filing (ISF), commonly called 10+2, which requires cargo information to be transmitted to DHS at least 48 hours before goods are loaded onto an ocean vessel for shipment into the U.S. The execution requires importers to provide 10 data elements to Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), as well as 2 more data elements from the carrier.

Future goals of the Maritime security regime should be a determined and willing effort for DHS components to promptly, comply with recommendations initiated by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). Previous recommendations, while met, remained out of compliance for extended periods. These OIG advisories should be addressed at the component and Departmental level, with appropriate audiences, to stimulate discussion. The maritime dialogue should include discourse regarding membership expansion of the Maritime Safety and Security (MSST) program currently led by the USCG. Additionally, inter-Departmental audits of assessment and operation teams should be performed annually to ensure proper performance of function. The auditing teams would also benefit from participation of multilateral institutions, such as the IMO.


Continued success in Port security protection will require a more balanced effort on the part of all stakeholders. Without powers to enforce Maritime conventions, the IMO will be reliant on the United States to ensure adherence to policy. The needed funding for assessments, training, strategic analysis, and potential political contentions cannot be a burden shouldered by the United States alone. The top ten maritime states (per the IMO), must contribute more resources if they expect prolonged results. The resources should not be restricted to select non-governmental agencies, but to the entire security regime.

Healthy partnerships between states, private industry, and multilateral organizations have, and will continue to play an essential role in counterterrorism efforts, and these partnerships should be nurtured carefully. As areas of Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) increasingly are relied upon for global trade, the greater the consequence should a disruption cause. Current trends show the increase in reliance may translate into catastrophic realities if not all maritime stakeholders meet significant compliance actions. Therefore, the maritime sector and its global workforce must be prepared to respond accordingly.


1 The International Maritime Organization Knowledge Centre: International Shipping and World Trade, Facts and Figures, October 2009
2 United States. Cong. House. USA PATRIOT ACT. 107 Cong. HR 3162.
3 Department of Homeland Security,
4 DHS - United States Coast Guard - Notice of Arrival database
5 The National Counterterrorism Center, Report on Terrorism 2011,
6 The International Maritime Organization Knowledge Centre: ISPS Code
7 U.S. Coast Guard, International Port Security Program – Supporting the National Strategy for Maritime Security, Annual Report 2012


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Jones, Bruce D., Carlos Pascual, and Stephen John. Stedman, Power & Responsibility: Building International Order in an Era of Transnational Threats. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 2009. Print.

Romaniuk, Peter, Multilateral Counter-terrorism: The Global Politics of Cooperation and Contestation. London: Routledge, 2010. Print.

United States Department of State. MARITIME SECURITY SECTOR REFORM, 2010. Print.

*Mrs. de Lesa C. Hanson is a Graduate Student/MS, Homeland Security/University of the District of Columbia, Washington DC. This paper was written for the Course entitled Global Security and International Institutions taught by Paul Nehru Tennassee/Fall 2012.