International maritime security: A rising issue
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
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
Ships face piracy risks
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 organisation which had declared a
secession movement against Jakarta attacked Exxon-Mobil installations of
The tsunami destruction 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
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 US$ 16 billion.
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 the New York Times publicised 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 per cent increase in just one year.
The report outlined the increase in the militarisation outlook of
modern day pirates, and their growing sophistication in armoury and
Other costs associated with sea security, are the requirements
imposed in 2004 by the International Maritime Organisation 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)
The cost was calculated by OECD as of US$ 1.3 billion in 2005 and US$
700 million thereafter that was financed by 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
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, the maritime one is a level lower in
Despite the fact that some 90 per cent of world’s trade is conducted
via sea routes and countries such USA, UK, Canada, Japan, 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.
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
prioritised 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.