Being a Ship Security Officer or an SSO can be a challenging job. You’re not only required to perform your regular tasks but also in charge of the vessel’s security, whether at sea or in port.
This role is so important that in order for the ISPS Code or the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code to come in full circle, there has to be an SSO present on board.
Now, if you are one of the ship’s officers, you could be assigned this position. And you can’t lightly decline this responsibility because it is a mandatory requirement for merchant vessels under SOLAS ’74 Chapter XI-2.
What exactly is a Ship Security Officer or SSO?
A Ship Security Officer is the person on board the ship, accountable to the Master, designated by the company as responsible for the ship’s security, including implementation and maintenance of the ship security plan and liaison with the company security officer and port facility security officers.
Simply put, an SSO is the person on board responsible for protecting the security of the ship and its crew, whether at sea or in port.
To keep the vessel secure, the role of an SSO involves:
- Conducting security inspections.
- Training the crew on security procedures.
- Implementing and maintaining the Ship Security Plan (SSP) in cooperation with the Company Security Officer.
Additionally, he also acts as the primary point of contact between the ship and the Port Facility Security Officers (PFSOs) at each port that the ship visits.
Who is the Ship Security Officer on board?
If you look into the shipboard ranks and structure, you won’t find the SSO somewhere in the chain of command. That’s because this position is appointed to a specific crew.
The designation depends on the company policy or even the Master’s discretion as he weighs down the job loads of each officer, including their relevant security training and experience.
My first vessel appointed the Chief Mate as the SSO. Then, I was on another tanker vessel where that role was assigned to the Third Officer. I also witnessed how the C/O handed over that capacity to the Second Officer as per the Master’s advice on one of my ships.
To be sure, better consult the Ship Security Plan or the officers since port authorities, Coast Guard officers, and even vetting inspectors randomly ask this to anyone on board.
Duties and Responsibilities of a Ship Security Officer or SSO
Knowing about the Ship Security Alert System (SSAS) is not the only task of an SSO. In fact, security duties can be different since each vessel has its own design and vulnerabilities.
But listed here are the most common responsibilities of an SSO on any merchant vessel according to the ISPS Code.
a) Undertake regular security inspections of the ship to ensure that appropriate security measures are maintained.
b) Maintain and supervise the implementation of the Ship Security Plan, including any amendments to the plan.
c) Coordinate the security aspects of the handling of the cargo and ship’s stores with other shipboard personnel and with relevant Port Facility Security Officers.
d) Propose modifications to the Ship Security Plan
e) Report to the Company’s Security Officer any deficiencies and nonconformities identified during internal audits, periodic reviews, security inspections, and compliance verifications and implement any corrective actions.
f) Enhance security awareness and vigilance onboard.
g) Ensure adequate training has been provided to shipboard personnel.
h) Report all security incidents.
i) Coordinate implementation of the SSP with the CSO and the relevant PFSO.
j) Ensure that security equipment is properly operated, tested, calibrated, and maintained, if any.
k) Fill out the Declaration of Security (DoS) between the ship and the shore or other ship.
l) Review the SSP once a year.
m) Develop procedures to assess the continued effectiveness of the ship security plan and amend the plan as necessary
n) Identify security threats not covered in the SSP.
o) Take appropriate measures around the ship relevant to the current security level.
p) Be thoroughly familiar with the contents of the SSP and its implementation.
q) Any other duties arising from the ISPS Code.
The Master continues to have the overriding authority and responsibility to make decisions concerning the vessel’s security and to request assistance as needed.
Training Course You Need to Become an SSO
There are two courses you need to be qualified to become a Ship Security Officer. These are the following:
1. Security Awareness Training and Seafarers w/ Designated Security Duties (SAT with SDSD)
This course is also mandatory for crew having security duties on board. Also known as IMO Model Courses 3.26 & 3.27, it tackles the theory and practice of security-related aspects discussed in the ISPS Code.
The training is 1 day long and priced between Php800.00 to Php1,800.00. You have to process a Certificate of Proficiency after completing the course.
2. Ship Security Officer Course
Designed to familiarize the trainees on implementing the contents of the ship security plan like identifying threats, terrorism, searching for stowaways, piracy response, bomb search, and all forms of security threats.
Furthermore, the course takes about 3 days to complete, and you must process a Certificate of Proficiency (COP) after completing the modules.
Price range between Php900.00 to Php2,500.00 depending on the training center.
On most merchant vessels, being an SSO won’t actually give you an extra boost to your salary.
This is another responsibility that you must do, and your salary is still what you make in your contract.
But for cruise ships, it’s a whole different story!
According to Glassdoor, a Ship Security Officer on cruise vessels earns around $43K – $74K/yr. But this is based on the U.S. labor market, so the figures could change based on your country.
May the winds be in your favor.