A few days ago, we talked about the ship’s emergency alarms and how bombastic, disturbing, and noisy they are. It should be that way since it’s an alert system. In case something terrible happens, everyone on board knows what to do.

So here’s something to blow your mind. We also have another kind of alarm where no sound or light signals are displayed. A life-and-death situation could be developing on board, and you will see or hear no warning signs.

What kind of alarm is this, and why are they designed that way?

Let’s find out.

 

Introducing the Ship Security Alert System (SSAS)

A ship security alert system, or SSAS, is an alerting mechanism installed on board that silently sends an alarm to the company, the Administration, or the Contracting Government when activated. Basically, not anywhere near the ship.

You won’t notice any sound or light signal, and the ships near you won’t know that you activated this device. This is pretty much not the usual alarm that we hear every day, but the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS Code) requires it that way.

In other words, this system transmits a ship-to-shore security alert to a competent authority. The signal indicates that a vessel’s security is threatened or compromised. Such threats include terrorism and piracy, the latter of which caused a spike in the usage of SSAS.

 

A graphic diagram of how an SSAS works by Falcon Mega Solutions.

Image by Falcon Mega Solutions

 

How does a Ship Security Alert System work?

To understand how an SSAS works, let us first see the three main components of this system. These are the following:

  1. Radio system
  2. Power supply, and
  3. Activation points

When the Master presses one of the activation points, an alarm signal is triggered to the office of the designated competent authority. This guy is usually the Company’s Security Officer depending on the company’s structure. Aside from the audio-visual warnings, the receiving station gets important information such as the:

  • name of the ship
  • IMO number
  • ship’s callsign
  • Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI)
  • latest Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) position in latitude and longitude, and
  • date and time of the GNSS position.

Once activated, the ship security alert system won’t stop unless deactivated and/or reset. The receiving authority immediately notifies the Flag States in the vicinity, in this case, the national authority. With the information provided in the alert, they are obliged to mobilize security forces to help the vessel and rescue the crew.

 

Why does the alarm signal only activates on shore and not on board?

According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the use of the ship security alert system is a recognition that security is political and requires a different response to a distress or emergency onboard.

When pirates or terrorists threaten the security of a merchant vessel, the crew can do nothing to fight back. They are unarmed, untrained, and considered civilians. Vessels in the vicinity can’t do anything either due to the same reasons.

The best way to address this situation is to ask help from the flag states or local authorities. While the rescue team scrambles, the crew can either wait inside the citadel or get captured by the terrorists. 

Besides, brandishing an alarm on board may motivate these pirates to act swiftly, It may result in harming the crew or killing them to get what they want.

 

An SSAS beacon antenna installed on the monkey island.

SSAS beacon antenna. Image by Falcon Mega Solutions.

 

Which vessels require a ship security alert system?

Not all vessels require a ship security alert system. But if you own a merchant ship navigating overseas, you are most likely obliged to have one.

Here are the specific requirements to follow if your vessel needs an SSAS or not: 

1. Ships constructed on or after 1 July 2004; 

2. Passenger shipsincluding high-speed passenger craftconstructed before 1 July 2004, not later than the first survey of the radio installation after 1 July 2004; 

3. Oil tankers, chemical tankers, gas carriers, bulk carriers, and cargo high-speed craft of 500 gross tonnage and upwards constructed before 1 July 2004, not later than the first survey of the radio installation after 1 July 2004; and 

4. Other cargo ships of 500 gross tonnage and upward and mobile offshore drilling units constructed before 1 July 2004, not later than the first survey of the radio installation after 1 July 2006.

 

What does an SSAS button look like and where can I find them?

The answer to this is no; I can’t tell you where. Information about the location of the SSAS button is highly classified and only known to select crew members. They are the captain, the SSO, and the cadet. I know two of them won’t tell you where, but one will, so good luck.

Anyway, the location of the SSAS button is found within the bridge, beneath the hundreds of posters or tables. You won’t see many features of it when you find it except for its color, which is red. Other than that, it looks similar to the hundreds of buttons inside the radio station and the wheelhouse.

Aside from the bridge, it is also located somewhere else. SOLAS requires that there be at least two SSAS buttons onboard. The second one is inside the captain’s cabin, and the steward probably knows where it is.

 

A button for Ship Security Alert System.

SSAS button. Image by Furuno.

 

SSAS Testing and False Alarms

Testing the ship security alert system is mandatory. Checking these records are a favorite tasks of PSC Officers and Coast Guard inspectors.

There is a monthly test of this device using the Inmarsat C, but a more comprehensive method involving the company, Flag State, and other designated recipients of ship security alerts is conducted annually. It also coincides with the Annual Safety Radio and Safety Equipment Survey.

1. Before the SSAS test begins, you must notify the Company, Administration, and Recognized Security Organizations at least 24 hours before the scheduled test. Wait for their acknowledgment before proceeding with the test.

2. Include the words “TEST TEST TEST” in the subject message of your email to make sure that it will not inadvertently lead to unintended emergency response actions. If a security mobilization is triggered during the test, the vessel’s owner shall pay for the cost incurred.

3. The test will include the two buttons and before activating them one by one, the company security officer (CSO) should be on the phone with the master.

4. After confirming that the CSO receives the correct information like the name of the ship, IMO number, ship’s callsign, MMSI, GPS position, and the time and date, the master may reset the button.

5. Do the same procedure in steps 3 and 4 for testing the second button. The CSO must always acknowledge that he received those details.

6. Make sure that both buttons are in the reset position and ready to use in an event of piracy o terrorism.

7. Inform the involved parties- the company and Flag State, that you completed the ship security alert test and confirm their acknowledgment.

 

Pass or Fail

The test could result in two ways, either successful (like the above scenario) or fail. For Failed Test, investigate the root cause and make sure to rectify them. Conduct a second text informing the same parties, using the same method.

In case of a false alarm, the captain must quickly inform the CSO, Flag State, and the dedicated security authority. He must use the quickest means to reach them to avoid false mobilization. Again, investigate the root cause and make sure to rectify them. Then inform the same parties that the fix has been made.

Lastly, write the completed test in the appropriate logbook.

 

May the winds be in your favor.

 

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