A team from the guided-missile cruiser USS Anzio and the U.S. Coast Guard dispose of bags of illegal narcotics from a vessel they boarded while conducting counter-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia on Oct. 15, 2009. (Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew Bash)

Piracy Perk: Somalia ‘Crucible of Innovation’ Guides Maritime Strategies

A study of maritime security issues that arose from the battle against Somali pirates revealed a pattern of best practices countries can take in the face of “a new wave of violence against shipping” along with wider crime and safety issues on the high seas.

The UK-funded SafeSeas Project, based at the School of Law and Politics at Cardiff University and the Global Insecurities Centre at the University of Bristol, issued a new toolkit based on research in the West Indian Ocean from Lesotho up to Pakistan from December 2016 through this month.

Nine pirate attacks were reported off the coast of Somalia in 2017, an increase of two attacks since 2016,  prompting International Maritime Bureau Director Pottengal Mukundan to warn that Somali pirates “retain the capability and intent to launch attacks against merchant vessels hundreds of miles from their coastline.” Worldwide, 180 piracy crimes were reported last year.

In 2011, though, Somali pirates alone conducted 237 attacks. The global cost of all piracy that year was $7 billion, and about 80 percent of that came out of shipping companies’ pockets.

“There is an increasing recognition of the importance of the maritime arena and how it is globally interconnected. Future security capacity builders will need to better understand the interconnections between maritime security challenges and how they are linked to developments on land,” says the SafeSeas report, “Mastering Maritime Security: Reflexive Capacity Building and the Western Indian Ocean Experience.”

With more than 90 percent of trade occurring by sea and over 10,000 million tons of cargo sailing through the world’s oceans every year, “the oceans and seas are zones of insecurity” and Somali piracy only got the “massive” international response it needed because of public outcry, the report says.

“The costs of piracy to the Western Indian Ocean region were considerable and included increased trade costs, as well as losses of income from tourism and fisheries. However, the piracy challenge also helped to focus attention on wider issues of maritime security,” SafeSeas notes. “Illegal fishing endangers fish stocks and marginalizes coastal populations. The trafficking of weapons and narcotics imperils public security and the stability of countries. The smuggling of illicit goods undermines the tax
monopoly of the state and puts public health at risk. The spillover of the conflict in Yemen to the maritime domain has led to a new wave of violence against shipping.”

“Evidence points to the inter-relationship of these maritime threats, and a vicious circle linking under-development with maritime insecurity that must be broken. Maritime security and the blue economy are two sides of the same coin… An insecure maritime environment breeds further maritime violence and crime.”

Much of the 44-page guide walks a country through how to build a security strategy from the ground up, from transparency with the population to vetting donors and deciding whether the structure of a navy or coast guard suits that area’s patrol duties best. The guide also walks through how nations and international organizations interested in building up partners in the interconnected realm of maritime security can successfully build capacity.

“In order to succeed, reflexive maritime security practitioners must challenge their own assumptions and embrace the tensions and complexity of maritime security as a cross-jurisdictional, multi-agency task. Reflexive capacity building implies learning from experiences of failure and success and transferring lessons between states and regions,” continues the report. “It requires
approaching capacity building as an ongoing activity in which lessons can be learned and methods of delivery improved, rather than as a one-off intervention with fixed start and end points.”

Maritime security sector reform and capacity building “should be defined by context,” the toolkit advocates, as “best practices cannot provide a blue print; they require adjustment to specific situations.”

With broad threats on waterways across the globe, Somali piracy has had the effect of turning the Western Indian Ocean into “a crucible of innovation in the maritime arena,” argues the report, including “experimentation in relation to counter-terrorism and sanctions enforcement, to piracy and criminality at sea, and to capacity building and development activities.”

“The complexity of maritime security also stems from its often transnational nature, in that security challenges take place across and outside the territorial boundaries of individual states. Such complexity implies that narrow or isolated responses to maritime security, which for instance address only one form of maritime crime, are unlikely to succeed and may even prove counterproductive. Maritime security practitioners need to adopt a holistic view of maritime security and understand how problems interlink.”

The toolkit warns of government or populace neglect toward maritime security issues often out of ignorance, but declares the “tendency towards seablindness is changing.” The “legacies of seablindness,” though, “mean that it can be an uphill struggle
to gain political attention or resources” for maritime security.

When it comes to international capacity building, the report finds, there’s “the risk that important indigenous knowledge and practical experiences can be sidelined in favor of external and often generic, technical expertise.”

“Recognizing how many actors are involved in maritime security in a country and region and what kinds of projects they run is an important step towards developing relations and information sharing between all actors involved. Transparency regarding activities is a precondition for coordination. Some duplication and competition is likely to be inevitable.”

The report notes that several countries have followed in the United States’ footsteps with strategies and national plans since the national maritime strategy was launched in 2005.

Looping all stakeholders into maritime strategies is invaluable, the report states, because “this broader maritime security community often holds important information and is vital in ensuring the fast transmission of reports on safety incidents and illicit activities.”

“Working closely with such actors is also an important crime prevention measure,” SafeSeas adds. “Users of the sea are potential collaborators in or even perpetrators of maritime crimes.”

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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