Maritime Threats
Sep 15, 2012

The world’s oceans are anything but peaceful, in fact, the seas are more like “the wild west” says Vice-Admiral Dean McFadden, the former commander of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN). A recent Maritime Security Conference in Halifax provided a forum for leaders of international navies to discuss the global concerns of ­maritime piracy, human trafficking, pollution, resource theft, the global drug trade – and to examine how to reduce these threats on the global waterways.

This was NATO’s second international gathering of flag officers, maritime security specialists, seafarers and academics representing defence departments, navies, business sectors and institutions of higher learning. This maritime security conference was sponsored by NATO’s Combined Joint Operations from the Sea Centre of Excellence (CJOS COE) and the Centre of ­Excellence for Operations in Confined and Shallow Waters (COE OCSW), and Dalhousie University’s Centre for Foreign Policy Studies provided intellectual support and led conference discussions.

Many of the presentations and discussions among senior flag officers from some of the world’s leading navies echoed McFadden’s concerns.

The U.S. Navy’s deputy commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command and CJOS COE Director, Vice-Admiral David H. Buss, warned his contemporaries that “we will continue to deal with close-in security challenges” such as counter-piracy and counter-terrorism. He went on to describe the U.S. Navy’s “70-80-90 paradigm”, where 70% of the world’s surface is covered by water, 80% of its population lives within 100 miles (160 km) of a coastline, and 90% of its commerce travels on the ocean. “That is probably less understood around the world by those who may not be part of the maritime community,” he accurately surmised.

2009 – HMCS Fredericton Naval Boarding Party come along side a fishing dhow during the conduct of a routine operation in the Gulf of Aden.

Dr. Manoj Gupta, was in full agreement. The retired Indian Navy submarine commander with 22 years of naval service, and currently a member of the Australian Defence Science and Technology Organisation, enumerated his concerns about ocean-based threats during a panel discussion. The world’s maritime challenges, he explained, include the security of borders, food, the oceans, energy and resources.

Threats to Maritime Security Steadily Increase
Both Vice-Admiral Buss and Royal Navy Commodore Steve Chick cautioned that a maritime event as significant as 9/11 is an unremitting possibility. “Most of our ports are surrounded by long-established communities which could be vulnerable to this kind of threat. Increasing tourism and cruise liner industries are using our oceans significantly more than we ever used to,” Cmdre Chick noted later to FrontLine.

The dangers to those who use the ocean commons recreationally and commercially are underscored by events from October 1985 when four Palestine Liberation Front members hijacked the cruise ship Achille Lauro off the Egyptian coast. They singled out 69 year-old retired American businessman Leon Klinghoffer, shot him, and threw his body overboard.

Since then, piracy – armed robbery and the seizure of ships at sea – has replaced airliner hijacking as a major international threat, making maritime security a growing concern. Bearing witness to the relentless criminal activity, the failed attempt at bombing U.S. Navy’s The Sullivans in Aden harbour (January 2000), was followed 10 months later as extremists succeeded in an October attack on the USS Cole, killing 17 and injuring 38.
Two years later, in October 2002, two of the terrorists believed to have been responsible for the Cole bombing, masterminded the bombing of the French supertanker Limburg. The bombing came the day before the first anniversary of the US-led war against the Taliban and the al-Qaeda terror network in Afghanistan.

In and around the Gulf of Oman, as part of Op Apollo, HMCS St. John’s small boat inspection and boarding party verifies the passports and papers of two “go fast” boats suspected of carrying terrorists.

The list, unfortunately, is endless. In another incident, SuperFerry 14 sank after it was bombed by terrorists in February 2004 off the Philippine coast, killing 116 people, including 15 children. Philippine authorities arrested three suspected Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) members attempting to carry improvised bombs aboard SuperFerry 3, docked in Parang town in Maguindanao.

International Conventions and Regulations

In an effort to address this growing ­maritime security challenge, a series of international conferences aim to promote safety and security at sea.

The international community adopted the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation in Rome on 10 March 1988. Sponsored by the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization (IMO), the convention attempts to address:

–    Seizing and control of ships;
–    Acts of violence against persons on board vessels;
–    Destruction or damage to ships or cargo;
–    The placement of devices or substances intended to destroy or damage a ship;
–    Providing false information.

The IMO adopted a new International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code at a diplomatic conference in London in December 2002. Its preamble notes “The Diplomatic Conference on maritime security held in London in December 2002 adopted new provisions in the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea 1974 and this Code [ISPS] to enhance maritime security. These new requirements form the international framework through which ships and port facilities can co-operate to detect and deter acts which threaten security in the maritime transport sector.”

The ISPS requirements include items such as security and personnel assessments and verification, validation and certification training, and drills and exercises for ships and port facilities.

Unanimity About Threats to Maritime Security
There is a surprising unanimity among nations – including countries as diverse as Sweden, Japan, Australia and Turkey – when discussing the nature of threats to maritime security. Common concerns related by conference attendees included:

–    Irregular maritime arrivals, including illegal migrants;
–    Illegal exploitation of natural resources, such as illegal fishing and resource theft (Nigeria, for example, lost $2 billion to illegal fishing and $7 billion to stolen oil from maritime drilling platforms);
–    Illegal activity in protected areas, which can include environmental disruption and marine habitat and ecosystem destruction;
–    Human trafficking;
–    Drug trafficking;
–    Compromise to bio-security;
–    Maritime terrorism;
–    Piracy, robbery or violence at sea;
–    Prohibited imports and exports;
–    Marine pollution;
–    Transnational crime;
–    Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction;
–    Irregular vessels in poor condition with inadequate safety equipment or are overloaded.

The 50,000 merchant ships registered in more than 150 nations are crewed by more than a million mariners. New Zealand’s Vero Marine Insurance estimates that between five and six million containers are in transit at any given time, and the respected journal, The Economist, warned in 2002 that any one of them could deliver “an instrument of death.”

“When you see the significant volume of trade, you see some of these container vessels, gas carriers and car carriers that are plying their way backwards and forwards between our countries, it is very easy to conceal something,” Cmdre Chick cautions FrontLine readers. “That’s why we need robust port security facilities and cargo loaded in a more secure manner.”

Any significant disruption to international commerce will have profound consequences. The interagency Round Table of International Shipping Associations cautions that with an interruption of maritime commerce, “half the world would starve and the other half would freeze!”

HMAS Anzac’s sea boat collects the boarding party after a successful ­security sweep of a dhow.

Maritime threats to Canada are a stark financial reality and can take any number of forms. A 2003 United Nations’ report estimated the global illegal drug trade at US$321.6 billion, against a global GDP of US $36 trillion. Equally disturbing is the violence it provokes.

Illegal migration is another concern. The 2009 arrival of 76 Sri Lankan Tamil men aboard the Ocean Lady in Vancouver underscores what desperate people will do to improve their lives, and how unscrupulous people will exploit them for profit.

Canada could also be a target for ­terrorism. In 2002, The Economist wrote that a suspected al-Qaeda terrorist from Egypt provided a worrisome lesson when he was discovered hiding in a sea container in the southern Italian port of Gioia Tauro. His voyage would have taken him to Halifax.

But, according to Chris Trelawny, the senior deputy director of the IMO’s ­Maritime Safety Division, maritime piracy remains the most widespread and relentless problem. While international naval action, long range identification and tracking, IMO guidance, and better situational awareness have reduced pirate success, there is no decrease in the number of attacks. Currently, 185 seafarers are held hostage as human shields, pawns in the contest between pirates and maritime security forces and interests. The 1,000 detainees awaiting trial for piracy have had no deterrent effect on the practice of piracy.

While Dr. Gupta recognizes piracy as a major concern, he noted that Somalia-based piracy has grown from its birthplace in the littoral waters off Haradeere, north to the shorelines of the United Arab Republic, south to northern Mozambique, and eastward to India’s Kathiawar Peninsula. He warned against the widespread misconception that piracy only takes place in Somali waters; the activity is spreading. In 2011, there were 160 incidents of piracy in Somali waters, and an additional 184 elsewhere: 13 in the South China Sea; 33 in Benin; 37 in the Gulf of Aden; 46 in Indonesia; 16 in Malaysia; and 39 in the Red Sea.

As the Arctic ice cap diminishes, and navigable waters open up in the Arctic, Canada will have to be prepared to assume increased responsibility for oversight of transportation, environmental stewardship, enforcement and fisheries protection.

Rear-Admiral James Goldrick of the Royal Australian Navy warned that global warming is causing fish habitats to change  – with some species moving into areas where there are fewer enforcement assets and resources. Unchecked, large scale fishing vessels can deplete stocks and damage undersea ecosystems with their fishing methods.

RAdm Goldrick offered his insight: “A successful maritime security agency organization must recognize that it is the ‘servant of the servants’ when it is operating surveillance and response assets on behalf of the whole government. Effective mechanisms must be in place for individual agency needs to be recognized, assessed and given their appropriate priority. This process may need to be classified and kept within the government machinery, but it must be transparent and auditable within that system. It must, above all, be inclusive.”
Chris Alexander, Member of Parliament for Ajax-Pickering and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, commented that Halifax was an appropriate site for the conference. With one of the world’s largest ports, “the city’s prosperity and vibrancy […] is due in large part, to the seaborne cargo that travels through its harbour, and to the generations of immigrants whose first stop in Canada was […] at Pier 21.”

Mr. Alexander reminded attendees of the Prime Minister’s recent comment that “Canada and its economy float on salt water.”

Tim Dunne is FrontLine’s Atlantic correspondent.
© FrontLine Defence 2012