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U.K. Announces New Maritime Strategy

The strategy sets out to ensure the security of U.K. borders, ports and maritime infrastructure, creating a secure environment that limits the ability of terrorist and organized criminal groups.

The United Kingdom has released its new national strategy for maritime security (NSMS) to set out the government’s activity to develop national and global maritime security over the next five years.

It builds on messages from the Global Britain in a Competitive Age: the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy and Maritime 2050 and was compiled with input from across government, academia and industry.

The strategy captures a range of issues including working to ensure the security of U.K. borders, ports and maritime infrastructure, creating a secure environment that limits the ability of terrorist and organized criminal groups to operate, and championing sustainable governance of the ocean, developing maritime security approaches that enforce environmental regulations.

In its risk assessment, the NSMS lists the key threats challenging U.K. maritime security:

  • Terrorism affecting the U.K. and its maritime interests, including attacks against cargo or passenger ships. 
  • Disruption to vital maritime trade routes resulting from war, criminality, piracy, or changes in international norms. 
  • Attack on U.K. maritime infrastructure or shipping, including cyber attack.
  • The transportation of illegal items by sea, including weapons of mass destruction, controlled drugs, and arms. 
  • People smuggling and human trafficking.

The strategy says the U.K. must be able to identify and respond to the recent diverse, low sophistication attack methodologies while also remaining prepared for complex or highly destructive attacks. “To date we have worked to ensure that no major maritime terrorist incidents have occurred in or near U.K. seas,” the strategy document states. “However, the U.K. must continue to prepare for a range of scenarios.”

The strategy warns that state threats are persistent and take many forms including espionage, sabotage, cyber operations, and intellectual property and data theft. “An increasing number of states now have the capability to undertake isolated attacks or use a range of threats to interfere with our security, economy, and society,” the strategy notes. “In the maritime domain, states may look to sabotage our key infrastructure, disrupt logistical and economic supply chains, or obstruct freedom of navigation. Recent state-backed attacks on commercial shipping have shown the challenges faced by the maritime industry in protecting both ships and seafarers. The attack on the MV MERCER STREET in July 2021 was attributed to Iran and demonstrates some of the capabilities available to states and non-state actors to target commercial shipping, risking the lives of seafarers.”

On Cybersecurity, the NSMS says that in light of the changing threat landscape, the British government will update the 2017 Cyber Security Code of Practice for Ships and work with the International Maritime Organization to agree international standards and agreements. The Cyber and Information Security section contained within the Port Facility Security Instructions will also be updated and will include links to government guidance, including how to report cyber incidents.

This is the second release of the NSMS. It replaces the original strategy published in 2014 and addresses the new and emerging risks facing the maritime sector over the coming years. An implementation group will be formed as the vehicle for overseeing the activity set out in the new strategy.

Read the full NSMS at the U.K. government library

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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