A port security officer is responsible for inspecting cargo, protecting passengers and for ensuring that terrorists and other criminals are unable to cross international borders. Generally, port security personnel are paid by government agencies. In some instances, security officers are full-time national or regional government workers while in other instances, government agencies contract private security firms to provide port security.
Ships from all over the world pass through major international ports. A port security officer has to inspect the paperwork that details the cargo contained on each ship that passes through the ports even if some of the cargo is not to be unloaded at that location. Generally, cargo ships carry large metal containers within which large quantities of goods are stowed. A port security officer has the authority to conduct an on-board inspection which may involve opening and searching cargo containers. Such searches are designed to detect the movement of illegal goods such as weapons or drugs as well as to detect quantities of goods that shipping companies may attempt to unload without paying any necessary customs taxes.
Terrorists and other fugitives sometimes attempt to cross international borders at ports. Consequently, security personnel are responsible for checking the passports and driving licenses of ship crew members and passengers. In many instances, security officers patrol major ports to ensure that no one other than the crew members and paying passengers are able to access boats and cargo. A port security officer may work with government agencies and share information related to suspected terrorist or criminal activity. In some countries, security officers must cross-reference lists of passengers and personnel with watch-lists of known criminals.
While many port security officers are land-based, some officers operate boats that patrol the harbor. Typically, they are responsible for ensuring that smugglers and other criminals do not make illicit drops at the dockside or make illegal transgressions into sovereign waters. Additionally, some ports employ airborne security officers who patrol the waters surrounding the port in helicopters or light aircraft. The patrolling officers liaise with personnel who work in control centers. Dispatchers based in the control center may alert patrol officers to unrecognized boats and marine vessels that are tracked by radar or sonar.
A port security officer may be a member of the police force, the coast guard or even the armed services. Some governments employ officers solely to protect ports while in other instances municipal governments arrange for local law enforcement officers to handle port security alongside their other inland duties. Many ports are government owned and operated and some governments arrange contracts with major security firms to provide security at multiple ports. Privately owned ports often employ in-house security personnel although these individuals typically have to go through some kind of government administered screening process.