Maritime Security Threats I: Hazards & Causes

By August 13, 2015 Article, Marine News No Comments

^ High Threat Areas for Global Maritime Security (Source:

Shipping: Genuinely Global  

About 100,000 large merchant ships and 4million fishing and small cargo vessels carry around 90% of the world’s cargo. A globalized, borderless economy has amplified the importance of maritime commerce. Advanced technology has exposed fresh areas for maritime mining-drilling and a melting Arctic has opened up new trade routes.

Oceans and seas cover about three-fourths of the earth’s surface, an endless expanse. Add to that the confusion on who controls which areas, shortage of law enforcement officers, and abundance of maritime highwaymen, and the high seas easily become a free-for-all arena.

Shipping’s global reach ensures that maritime security threats endanger the social, economic, political, and cultural fabric of the entire world. The transboundary and mobile nature of these hazards prevent effective action by any one state employing conventional international maritime laws. The situation dictates a novel approach.

Hazards & Causes

British maritime writer Rose George rightly points out that half of the world will starve and the other half will freeze without ships. With so much at stake, the lawlessness at high seas is no surprise.

Hazards include:

Direct Threats:

  • Transnational Organized Crime and Illegal Trafficking:
  • Drug Trafficking
  • Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) Trade
  • Human Trafficking
  • Piracy and Armed Robbery
  • Maritime Terrorism

Indirect Threats:

  • Biological, Chemical, and Nuclear (BCN) Weapons
  • Loopholes in Corporate Law

Causes: Maritime threats are inherently mobile and trans-boundary. It is often unclear in whose jurisdiction a threat has materialized or can materialize. Even if you can pinpoint the spot, there remains the question: which authority is competent to deal with the situation.

IMO places the responsibility on the flag-state while such states direct these enquiries back to the IMO. Interpol says its primary responsibility includes information exchange between countries.

National and international agencies lack the resources or willingness or both to enforce maritime laws. Then again, maritime laws between neighboring states may be mutually incompatible and allow offenders to exploit gaps.

International maritime laws and conventions are usually toothless, contradictory, and easily break-able. For example, Europe imposes heavy fines on ships bringing unlisted people to counter terrorism and illegal immigration. Laws however also ship captains for discarding migrants and stowaways. Isn’t that contradictory?

Porous borders and lax border controls allow offenders to commit crimes in the waters of one state and flee into safe havens located in another country. International smugglers have enough funds and influence for to maintain such safe havens. Such gangs promote instability and conflict because such conditions expand their influence and profits.

Transnational Organized Crime and Illegal Trafficking is a broad, multipronged threat that legitimizes narcotics, violence, corruption, money laundering, prostitution, and human and migrant trafficking. This seriously dents the social, economic, political, and cultural milieu of the affected regions and, by extension, of the whole world.


Global Narcotics Smuggling Routes (Source:

As law enforcers increasingly pressurized the illegal and lucrative narcotic trade, drug cartels became more organized, started bribing public officials, and using firearms to intimidate rivals and law enforcers. To legitimize the gains from drug trade, they started laundering money.

Then, they diversified into prostitution, human smuggling, and migrant trafficking. With a rise in demand for such illicit cargo, criminal organizations expanded and cooperated at the global level. This further intensified the need for international cooperation to combat these activities.

Because these operations are more easily conducted in areas with low social stability, high poverty, and porous borders, criminal gangs fund conflicts in such regions. This further destabilizes the areas as they lose potential revenue from tourism and foreign investment.

Drug Trafficking is worth $435billion a year. With such resources, drug cartels purchase arms and influence and legitimize themselves. The immense international demand for narcotics is the primary driver of this trade.

Poor farmers from developing world, particularly those displaced by globalization, grow narcotic crops despite inherent dangers because traditional crops provide insufficient returns. And it is globalization that aids the rapid global distribution of drugs.

Illegal Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) is integrally connected to the illicit narcotics trade. The demand for SALW is often commensurate with that of narcotics. Conflict and civil war also create demand for illegitimate SALW that undermine human rights by promoting violence, terrorism, and mercenary activity.

Facets of the Illegal Arms Trade (Source:

Facets of the Illegal Arms Trade (Source:

Porous borders manned by corrupt and/or poorly trained-equipped personnel, feeble national control over production-trade of arms, and differences in legislation and enforcement mechanism between nations facilitate this trade.

Unfortunately, there is no legally binding international convention to counter illegal SALW trade because everyone wants the means to gets arms. You never know when you might need them.

The only international-level convention on SALW is a non-binding one. Here, preparation for war does not ensure peace. It fuels further conflict and takes the region further down the destructive spiral.

Global Human Trafficking Routes (Source:

Global Human Trafficking Routes (Source:

Human Trafficking is the use of force or exploitation of people’s vulnerability in order to illegally transport them and use them for forced labor or prostitution. This too is linked to the illicit drug trade. Generally, people from West Africa, South East Asia, Central and South East Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean are trafficked to North America and Western Europe.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), over 3,000 unauthorized migrants died in 2014 while crossing seas. Had they reached the shores, many would have qualified for protection. The Mediterranean Sea, Bay of Bengal, and the Red Sea are the focal points of such migration.

Compounding the problem is the existence of numerous players:

  • migrants and their families
  • criminal networks that profit from the migrant trade
  • communities in the source and destination regions
  • border control and immigration officers
  • regional bodies such as the EU’s border control agency Frontex
  • global humanitarian organizations such as the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR)
  • civil society institutions that stand up for the human rights of migrants
  • private players viz. commercial and fishing vessel owners-operators

Each of these has a different interest in the migrant trade and each has his own sets of rules, laws, and operational standards. This adds to the confusion and makes it difficult to frame coherent policies.

Perilous Voyages by Migrants: Seeking a Better Life (Source:

Perilous Voyages by Migrants: Seeking a Better Life (Source:

Rescue or interception efforts by border control authorities with advanced equipment have resulted in organized criminal networks taking over the maritime transport of migrants from amateurs. Migrants now take greater risks to evade sophisticated authorities.

A state cannot send refugees back to their under the 1951 Refugee Convention. But it can repatriate unauthorized migrants. Smugglers know this and train migrants to behave like refugees. And instead of evading border control authorities, traffickers cut off engines and act like distressed people when an interception is imminent.

Piracy & Armed Robbery off Somalia created international waves till 2012 by when the issue was resolved for the time being. Otherwise, the sea and maritime activities are usually a separate world for most of us.

According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) and the RAND Institute, the global cost of piracy ranges anywhere between $1billion and $16billion a year. The vast difference is due to the use of separate methodologies.

In accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea’s (UNCLOS) definition of piracy and the definition of Armed Robbery by IMO’s Resolution A.1025(26), global piracy hotspots include:

  • South East Asia is now the most piracy-infested region. Around 70-80% of the Chinese and Japanese oil imports pass through the Singapore and Malacca Straits

The area reported about 75% of piracy and armed robbery incidents in 2014 with most occurring in the territorial waters of Indonesia and Bangladesh

  • Africa and Red Sea:

East Africa: near Somalia where pirates focus on kidnap-ransom. Piracy peaked here in 2011with 237 attacks but declined thereafter

West Africa off the Nigerian Coast: pirates are more interested in oil cargoes, not in kidnap-ransom. This makes them more violent, for they have no vested interest in the life of seafarers

  • South America, Central America, and the Caribbean registered more piracy-related incidents than Africa in 2014
Hotspots of Global Maritime Piracy (Source:

Hotspots of Global Maritime Piracy (Source:

Maritime Terrorism is a relatively minor phenomenon. The attack on the USS Cole by the Al Qaeda near Aden in 2000 was a prominent incident. The last major incident of was the bombing of the M/V Limburg near Yemen in 2002.

Terror outfits prefer land attacks because executing an act of terror on sea is far more complicated. The Al Qaeda, the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in the Philippines, and the Al Qaeda Jammah Islamiyah in Indonesia are known to possess maritime attack capabilities.

Bombing of the USS Cole (Source:

Bombing of the USS Cole (Source:

Experts however warn against complacence, for the issue has the potential to disrupt maritime commerce. Sinking a ship at a strategic choke-point viz. the Suez Canal entrance, the Malacca Strait, Bab-al-Mandab Strait, or the Hormuz Strait could be a commercial nightmare.

Biological, Chemical, and Nuclear Weapons (BCN) can wreck havoc if they fall in the hands of terrorists.

Loopholes in Corporate Law aid the materialization of maritime security threats by providing a legitimate cover to related illegal activities and hiding the true identities of the perpetrators. Fearing the loss of the lucrative shipping business, no state ever ratified a 1986 UN Convention that aimed for higher, uniform ship registration standards.

Identity concealment means investigating authorities do not know where to start the enquiry. Such methods include ownership through front organizations, employment of nominee directors and shareholders, issue of bearer shares, and the use of intermediaries.

Under the present-day flagging system, a ship can fly the flag of a country by merely agreeing to abide by that country’s rules. A country’s patrol boats do not go beyond its national waters.

A company can easily own ships through its subsidiary in the flag state. Many states do not require the company to submit detailed information on the true owners. Also, states compete to attract more shipping companies by watering down registration requirements.


Somalia in 2011 was a hotbed of maritime piracy. A year later, the situation improved dramatically. This amply demonstrated the efficacy of remedial measures. Stay with us as we explore possible solutions in the second part of the report.

Visit our blog for the latest updates on issues that affect maritime security. To experience fantastic workmanship and a great work culture regarding marine fabrication services, marine pipe fitting, and large scale custom metal fabrication, contact Kemplon Engineering.