Maritime Security Threats II: The International Counter-Offensive

By August 15, 2015 Article, Technology No Comments

^ Captured Pirates (Source:      

Tough, Not Impossible

An ancient phenomenon, maritime security threats have acquired epic proportions only in recent decades. With rising financial clout organized criminal syndicate have purchased greater influence. This is a global cancer because they set immoral ideals by basing their success on perpetual violence, bribery, prostitution, narcotics, and trafficking.

Maritime security is necessary for other forms of security viz. social, economic, political, and cultural. Establishing maritime security requires an integrated, transnational approach. While difficult, such security it is not impossible as the suppression of Somali Piracy since 2012 by joint international action has amply demonstrated.

Piracy in Somalia peaked in 2011. Thereafter, joint naval action by a multinational naval force, faster judicial process in Somalia, security initiatives by the maritime industry, and political stability in Somalia brought down the plague. 2014 saw only eleven such incidents in the region.

The Genesis & Growth of Maritime Security Threats

Immensely lucrative, the illegitimate narcotics trade is at the root of the problem. To keep the illegitimate gains, criminal gangs need weapons and money launderers. This expanded the illicit small arms trade and money laundering operations. The gangs have diversified into human smuggling, prostitution, and migrant trafficking.

Seized Narcotics  (Source:

Seized Narcotics (Source:

 Conflict zones provide them ideal settings. Which is why they finance conflicts. Violence also forces migrations. Lack of jurisdictional clarity in international waters and mutually incompatible laws between neighboring states plays into their hands.

International Response

Maritime security threats include:

  • Transnational Organized Crime and Illegal Trafficking:
    • Drug Trafficking
    • Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) Trade
    • Human Trafficking
  • Piracy and Armed Robbery
  • Maritime Terrorism
  • Biological, Chemical, and Nuclear (BCN) Weapons
  • Loopholes in Corporate Law

Strategies for maritime security establish common standards and categorical jurisdictions to allow states and international organizations to take effective action. International data sharing, cooperation, and joint maneuvers build trust among nations.

Search & Seizure Maritime Operation


International measures therefore focus on sealing jurisdictional and systemic gaps by standardizing:

  • definitions of maritime threats
  • inter-state cooperation
  • border controls
  • custom procedures
  • ship registration

Measures include:

  • Permitting authorities of a state to board and inspect, in its territorial waters, ships bearing the flag of another state if authorities suspect terrorist and drug operations on the ship

However, the state needs to obtain permission from the flag state before boarding. This introduces unnecessary delays. Only timely interdictions help evidence collection and prevention of catastrophes

  • Extradition of offenders by the country hosting the offender if is unable to prosecute them
  • UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1540 mandates binding border controls to prevent BCN smuggling
  • International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code helps states detect explosives and smuggled goods
  • United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNCTOC) is the main international instrument to combat the illegal narcotics trade. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) executes the UNCTOC
  • 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (amended 1972) regulates the scientific and medicinal use of narcotics
  • 1988 UN Convention against Illicit Trafficking in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances deals with international cooperation for making and enforcing anti-narcotic maritime laws
  • 2001 Program of Action to Prevent, Combat, and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All its Aspects (PoA) is the only international-level instrument to counter illegal SALW trade

Sadly, the PoA is non-binding. Other conventions addressing this issue are only of sub-regional stature. Arms are invaluable in conflict situations. No state wants to give up the means to procure them

  • 1988 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (amended 2005) is the chief instrument dealing with the possible use of ships for transporting or detonating BCNs

Non Proliferation Treaty, Chemical Weapons Convention, and the Biological Weapons Convention urge liquidating of BCN stockpiles and close scrutiny of shipments that transport BCN raw materials

  • 1986 United Nations Convention on Conditions for Registration of Ships tried to set higher, more uniform standards for ship registration. However, no state has ratified it for fear of losing valuable shipping business
  • UN High Commission on Refugees’ (UNHCR) Global Initiative on Protection at Sea seeks to unite governments, international agencies, private sector partners, and civil society to lower exploitation, death, and violence faced by migrating boat people
  • Convention against Transnational Organized Crime is the main international instrument to counter human trafficking. It supplements the UNCTOC

Any state can exercise jurisdiction over piracy. Whether a state can do so regarding war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity, slavery, slave-related practices, and torture, is a matter of debate. All maritime security agreements tacitly aim for such universal jurisdiction for all maritime security threats.

IMO facilitates regional cooperation against piracy and armed robbery. INTERPOL is a part of the following global anti-piracy initiatives:

Interdicted People Smugglers   (Source:

Interdicted People Smugglers (Source:

  • UN Sub-Working Group on Maritime Policy exchanges data and ideas
  • Kampala Process promotes political anti-piracy dialogue
  • Djibouti Code of Conduct lays down coordinated anti-piracy response in East Africa

Other initiatives include:

  • Regional Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP): inspired by success of international anti-piracy operations in Somalia, twenty nations including Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Philippines, Australia, the U.S., and the U.K. closed ranks for fighting piracy in Southeast Asia
  • Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Program (MPHRP) is a pan-industry alliance helping seafarers and their families deal with the stress caused by an incident involving hostage-taking, piracy attack, or armed robbery.

Nations also need to work with their coastal communities to prevent them from falling prey to lucrative, illegal offers by pirates and terrorists. This starts by ensuring appropriate, sustainable, and respectable livelihoods.

Adoption of International Conventions by Signatory States

Executing international maritime security conventions at the national level requires signatory states to establish:

  • Legal Reforms that align national laws with the provisions of international agreements
  • Institutional Changes include the creation of a dedicated ministry or government agency to deal with all the obligations. Often, this agency will work with numerous other departments
  • Systemic Modifications to create fresh work procedures
  • Material and Human Resources viz. technology and trained manpower to deal with the new responsibilities
  • Financial Resources to successfully fund all the above


Not all states possess enough resources and will be many years before all such states actively participate in maritime security operations. Till then, joint international action howsoever feeble is the only way forward. Everybody’s business is indeed nobody’s business.

Climate change will further endanger livelihoods and create fresh streams of migrants. Increasing economic globalization and greater use of technology will ensure that the developed world is no longer immune from the repercussions of catastrophes in the developing world. Was there ever a stronger case for more concerted international action?

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