International maritime security: A rising issue

Posted in Terrorism | 15-Jan-08 | Author: Ioannis Michaletos

Ioannis Michaletos is WSN Editor South East Europe.

The first years of the 21st century witnessed the expansion of sea trade, boomed by the world trade acceleration. In parallel international maritime security, emerges as a focal point in the overall security architecture as exercised by the battle against terrorism and organized crime.

The attacks against USS Cole, in 200 and the French oil tanker Limburg in 2002 offshore Yemen; illustrated the perils involved navigating in a region heavily influenced by Al Qaeda and assorted terrorist entities. It is also an important “Choke point” of energy transport and as it can easily understood attacks against vessels in this point of the earth have greater geopolitical ramifications, than otherwise assumed.

In Indonesia, another hot spot, the Free Aceh Movement declared in 2002 that all ships passing through the Malacca Straights should have “Safe passage permission”, so as to exploit financially the passage of thousands of ships per year. The same organization which has declared a secession movement against Jakarta attacked Exxon-Mobil installations of natural gas. The tsunami destruction in early 2006 assisted in a tacit armistice between the central government and the Aceh, a situation that could be altered any time in the future. Jema’aa Islamiya was also planning an attack against sea target that was averted in 2001, and the Indonesian intelligence assessed that Islamic terrorism was a clear and present danger in the sea.

Singapore’s security services have in numerous cases called for international action against piracy linking it to terrorism. The Jamestown Foundation (06/10, 2005, Vol. II, Issue 11), commented that the government of Singapore had data from terrorist monitoring of potential targets in the region where at least 1,000 vessels pass through daily.

In the Philippines the Abu Sayyaf terrorist organization has been involved in numerous deadly attacks in the sea. In 2004 they blew up a ship killing more than 100 passengers, apart from their heavy involvement in piracy incidents in the Philippine Sea. In Sri Lanka the Tamil Tigers launched a suicide attack in the north of the country against an oil tanker, by directing five speed boats full of TNT against it.

The world wide cost of the insurance fees imposed to maritime businesses due to piracy is estimated to 16 billion USD. Moreover the amount would increase should all incidents were recorded. The loss of human lives, injuries and bureaucratic costs cannot be accounted for, but it is certain that piracy is an expensive burden for sea trade and world commerce in general.

In early 2005 New York Times publicized the annual report by the International Maritime Bureau, where the statistics indicated a quality alteration of piracy incidents. Specifically even though attacks decreased from 445 (In 2003) to 325; 400 seamen died, injured or held hostage a 100% increase in just one year. The report outlined the increase in the militarization outlook of modern day pirates, and their growing sophistication in armory and organization.

Other costs associated with sea security, are the requirements imposed in 2004 by the International Maritime Organization that dictates the installation of special equipment for vessels more than 500 tons. That includes sensors that transmit silent codes of distress to nearby coast guards in case the boat is being attacked. The requirements were codified in the ISPS (International Code for the Security of Ships and Port Facilities) and to the amended SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) Convention. The cost was calculated by OECD as of 1, 3 billion USD in 2005 and 700 million Dollars thereafter that was financed by the maritime corporations.

Lastly the involvement of the Navies and Coast Guards of the countries facing piracy issues is another heavy financial strain. In general piracy causes remarkable disturbances in the maritime business environment, not taking into account the possibility of a hit against a port, or a vessel carrying sensitive material, with Weapons of Mass Destruction. The possibility of a terrorist group staging an attack in a port using WMD should not be taken lightly. Even though airport security and the subway one are considered as highly critical by the international and state authorities; maritime one is a level lower in consideration. Despite the fact that some 90% of world’s trade is conducted via sea routes and countries such USA, UK, Canada, Japan etc, heavily depend on maritime trade; little has surfaced since 9/11 for the measures being implemented in this field.

The nexus between piracy and terrorism can by highlighted by the mastermind of the USS Cole attack, the Saudi subject Al Rahman al Nashiri who was about to orchestrate attacks against vessels in the Gibraltar Straights in order to create havoc in the Mediterranean Sea. Lastly, Somalia which is a major piracy center in the Indian Ocean reveals the interrelation between the Islamist rebels and the piracy assails that finance in their turn the former. The existence of “Failed states” in the periphery of important world sea routes is a temptation for all sorts of criminal elements to exploit the weakness of a state mechanism to avert their plans. Even Indonesia which is one of the largest countries in the world and has a fleet of over 110 Navy vessels, can barely administer it sea territory due to the existence of over 17,000 islands and the activation of numerous secession movements and terrorist organizations.

On overall the piracy issue is an obstacle to the overall efficiency of the world trade. More importantly it is a concern that should be prioritized as a top one, especially for the powers heavily influenced by the Sea trade. It would not be improbable as to assume that further hesitation in that field by the international authorities might well lead to an attack equivalent to the 9/11 or even worst, if predictions by pundits turn to be true in their most dramatic projection.