Following the terrorist attacks in New York in September 2001, the IMO Diplomatic Conference on Maritime Security held in London in December 2002 adopted several amendments to SOLAS. These amendments include the introduction of Maritime Security in Chapter XI of SOLAS 74 and incorporated the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code which came into effect on 1 July 2004.
As a consequence, all passenger vessels and other ships over 500gt are required to be provided with a ship security alert system (SSAS). The requirements of the system are specified in Regulation 6 of Chapter XI-2 of SOLAS 74. In regard to Regulation 6.2.1, the ship security alert system, when activated by the ship shall:
- initiate and transmit a ship-to-shore security alert to a competent authority designated by the Administration, which in these circumstances may include the Company, identifying the ship, its location and indicating that the security of the ship is under threat or it has been compromised;
- not send the ship security alert to any other ships;
- not raise any alarm on board the ship; and
- continue the ship security alert until deactivated and/or reset.
The regulation goes on to say that the SSAS shall be capable of being activated from the navigation bridge and in at least one other location and conform to performance standards not inferior to those adopted by the Organization. The SSAS activation points must be designed so as to prevent the inadvertent initiation of the ship security alert.
When a flag state receives notification of a ship security alert it is obliged to immediately notify the state(s) in the vicinity of which the ship is presently operating. If the alert is received by any state other than the flag state, that Contracting Government should immediately notify the relevant flag state and, if appropriate, the state(s) in the vicinity of which the ship is presently operating.
The exact type of equipment that can be used to satisfy the regulation is not specified but some operators have chosen to make use of the GMDSS radio station while many others have installed separate and dedicated satellite equipment. By the standards of modern communications technology, SSAS is quite basic comprising a GPS receiver linked to a transmitter, a power supply, some software and activation buttons.
Because the technology is simple and the market huge, a sizeable number of manufacturers have come up with SSAS products. They can all be expected to meet the necessary legal obligations but the ways in which they do this vary somewhat. The principal differences centre on the methods used to transmit the alarm message, but there are also a number of other features and benefits. As an example, some suppliers will act as co-ordinating centre and when an alert signal is received they will contact selected personnel of the owner or manager. At least one – Pole Star – has developed an app for smart phones that will give all the information to designated persons whenever an alert is made.