Secure futures

Protection: perimeter fencing needs to be robust. Credit: Port of Everett
Protection: perimeter fencing needs to be robust. Credit: Port of Everett
Rounds: security patrols need to be done regularly. Credit: Port of Everett
Rounds: security patrols need to be done regularly. Credit: Port of Everett
Front line: gate controls need to be in place. Credit: Port of Everett
Front line: gate controls need to be in place. Credit: Port of Everett

John Bensalhia looks at how port security can be improved safely and cost effectively

As the new year settles in, the news continues to bring reports of security warnings across the world. Recent world events have raised alerts in all public domains, and right now, security continues to be a crucial sector of port operations.

But how do ports compare with – for example – airports when it comes to handling security? James Grant, Portland Port's security manager/PFSO says that there are significant differences between seaport and airport security: “Seaport security lags behind that of airports both in terms of rigidity and in technology use. It is difficult to envisage seaports being as tightly secured as airports without massive investment and a significant shift in opinion within the shipping community.”

Mr Grant explains that geographically, it would seem more difficult to secure the boundary of a seaport as opposed to a land-locked airport. “The movement of aircraft, especially in the vicinity of airports and populated areas is more tightly controlled than shipping, especially at the leisure end of the scale.

“Traditionally, as an island race [in the UK} we have viewed the sea as our domain, every islander having the right to put to sea in whatever craft, without the need for licensing and control. Compare the requirements for a pilot’s licence for leisure flight against that of the lack of any such regulation to buy and operate a motor cruiser privately. By their nature, ports will always face challenges with regards to security but the focus is always on looking at how things can be improved.”

Meeting standards

So how can ports ensure that security levels are of the highest possible standard? George Bennet, operations director of Brecon Group, says that when it comes to security, a back to basics approach is key. “In my experience of looking at African ports' security vulnerabilities, port operators still struggle to get the basics right. Without comprehensive access control to port facilities, all other security measures are rendered less effective, so concentrate on that as a priority.”

Mr Bennet explains that security should be treated as a sector in itself – as opposed to placing it in a separate area like health and safety. “Too many ports put security under the responsibility of the health and safety manager, without recognising that security is a discipline in itself and should be managed as such.” Mr Bennet says that having a competent manager solely in charge of security is the first step to having a properly operating security function, reducing risk and ideally lowering costs.

Another potential security issue to be aware of is that of theft – as Mr Bennet explains: “Although an infrequent problem in most ports, I have seen the theft of containers from operators’ sites cause serious reputational damage. In-keeping with the above points, simple remedies such as limiting electronic access to container manifest records, drastically reduces the risk of such losses.”

Edward Madura, security director at the Port of Everett, says that the best measure to continue port security is to maintain diligence in the port's staffs and partners. “Despite all the new technologies, the best deterrence is to have active participation of not only security staff, but dock workers, office staff, maintenance staff, contractors and the public at large on the look out for things are not right and a willingness to pass along what they observe.

“There are a lot of security procedures and processes that will slow operational production but having aware and active participation by staff and others should not disrupt any cargo movements.”

Money talks

In such a crucial sector like security, money is one of the most important aspects for ports to consider. Good quality security measures will need a considerable investment. Mr Madura explains that while the investment will be high, it is still a cheaper alternative to the fallout from a potential security breach: “The cost issues are huge depending on what requirements and systems are put in place. The cost to install and maintain sensing equipment can be extremely high, the cost to supply skilled security staff can be equally high, but neither can compare to the cost of recovery from a catastrophic security failure.”

Mr Bennet says that while the initial cost will be high, the long-term benefits of the investment should be noted: “Technical and physical security infrastructure often requires a significant initial capital outlay; however well-designed and implemented systems may reduce operating costs over the longer term (by reducing manpower requirements for example).

“Security spend, especially in circumstances where provision is effective, will always be under pressure from managers looking to reduce operating costs. Going back to the previous point though, ‘increased’ doesn’t always mean ‘more effective’, and the simplest measures are often both the cheapest and most effective.”

“Any increase in port security measures will bring an associated rise in costs, how much depends on the level of the increased measures,” says Mr Grant. “The question then becomes 'who pays?' Port operators, users, clients or the consumer? In all probability, the port operators will absorb the costs by increasing the price to users, they will pass on the costs to clients and clients will pass on the costs by increasing prices to the consumer.

“The geographical nature of Portland Port and its rich military history that with the addition of a 24/7 manned security presence, complex surveillance system, patrol vehicles and rigorous obedience to guidelines stipulated by the DFT ensures that all stakeholders are satisfied with the secure nature of the port.”

Technological assets

With advances in technology, new innovations have been a considerable asset to ports. Mr Madura discusses some examples: “There have been notable technological innovations to help with port security some of which have been forced on the industry such as the Radiation Portal Monitors (RPM) system installed by US Customs. These systems were put in place, they work very well and the technology has been improved; however the funding for US Customs to maintain and upgrade this system has not been put in place and without this funding the technology will not only lose its effectiveness but lead to a false sense of security and financial hardship to the port.

The use of video analytics is another area where technological innovations can greatly improve security but comes at a cost of upgrading current systems which may be out of the reach of many.

With regards to the future, Mr Madura says that the most anticipated development in port security would be the synergy that could be reached by partnering public and private assets. “Rather than have the government using resources to regulate security at our ports, if they were to take the lead at assisting our ports in that endeavour I’m sure they could achieve a good following.”

“Well-managed security shouldn’t negatively affect port operations,” adds Mr Bennet. “On the contrary, it should reduce losses and disruption, and raise efficiency. To achieve this, those designing port security measures and procedures need to have a full understanding of facilities’ operational priorities and methods of operation, tailoring security to fit in sympathetically.”


Stowaways at ports is a problem that has continued to make the news in recent times. For example, in August 2014, it was reported that 35 Afghan nationals had been discovered in a container at Tilbury Ports in Essex.

More recently, in August 2015, seven stowaways were arrested at Tema Port in Ghana. The stowaways had been aboard a Chinese vessel on route from Nigeria to South Africa. When the vessel stopped at the Port of Tema to unload cargo intended for a Ghanaian importer, the stowaways were caught and arrested – as a result of the Port of Tema's tight security procedures.

Maritime security company Secure A Ship claims that the average cost of each stowaway case jumped from $7,000 in 2002 to $22,000 in 2013. The International Maritime Organisation says that stowaways can bring serious consequences, including delays, high costs for the repatriation and also the risks posed to the lives of the stowaways.

Secure A Ship offers a special service for handling this problem. The company uses specially trained operatives who are equipped with Stowcheck analysers, which are developed for detecting the presence of people in confined spaces. The operatives are fully trained in the use of the analysers – and in addition to these, extra equipment for checking containers is used, which can also be given to the crew in order to hasten the process of detecting any potential stowaways.

The IMO encourages the appropriate measures to be taken to halt such risks. The FAL Convention (The Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic) offers clear preventive measures for ships and ports. These include patrol of port areas, establishing a special storage area for cargoes, and monitoring persons and cargo entering the above area.


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