Maritime security and terrorism
Peter Cook, chief executive officer at the Security Association for the Maritime Industry (SAMI), analyses how dependent we are on maritime trade for economic stability, the fragility of maritime security and what is the best template solution for future security.
Maritime security means different things to different people depending upon where you live and how you interact with the sea. It could be that the sea is the vital link which provides almost all of the trade that supports your economy, it may be that the oil and gas platforms offshore will enable your balance of payments to be healthy and provide much valuable business for the people who live along the coast; or the ports along your coastline could feed not only your country but many others inland. Alternatively the sea may provide the main source of protein for your people. It may also mean that it denies terrorists the freedom of manoeuvre to mount activist assaults on your coastline from over the horizon. All of these scenarios require a secure maritime domain so that free trade can continue unhindered.
According to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO, the specialist agency of the UN responsible for the safety and security of shipping and prevention of marine pollution by ships) international shipping transports about 90 per cent of global trade to peoples and communities all over the world. Since the end of the Second World War there has been a revolution in the movement of cargo by sea that has facilitated globalisation. In the 1950s, it would typically take more than six days to load 5,000 tons of cargo, using more than $5,000 worth of lumber and rope to secure it, and then 10.5 days to cross the North Atlantic, and a further four days to unload the cargo, costing around $6 per ton of cargo. After the introduction of containers in the late 1950s, there was a revolutionary transformation in cargo handling.
Today, a vessel carrying 15,000 twenty foot equivalent units (TEUs) or containers can be unloaded from a ship, and then the same number reloaded, inside 18-hours at the amazingly small cost of less than 16 cents per ton of cargo. Consequently, the world’s commercial fleet more than doubled in size between 2001 and 2013. Furthermore, the most recent United Nations Conference on Trade and Development Review of Maritime Transport estimated an increase in global seaborne trade of 3.4 per cent in 2014, which is an ongoing trend due to inexorable growth in global demand induced by a growing world population and a rise in the middle class/consuming category.
The Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development (OECD) predicted a quadrupling of international freight trade by 2050. A quick calculation on the compound increase of an annual increase of 3.4 per cent works out at a rise in the volume of trade moving by sea of around 50 per cent within 12 years, which is breathtakingly significant and will require many more ships, more ports and bigger ports.
You only have to glance at the weekend newspapers and colour supplements to be bombarded with attractive deals for a holiday on a cruise ship to an exotic part of the world. The cruise liner industry is also growing fast; between 2006 and 2010, the passenger carrying capacity of the cruise liner fleet increased by 50 per cent, and by 2018 it is anticipated by the cruise liner industry that there will be sufficient berths for more than 500,000 passengers to be at sea at any one time.
The Superyacht industry is also growing and there are now more than 5,000 Superyachts at sea around the globe; 45 per cent of which have been built in the last eight years.
It is not only shipping that uses the seas; globally we have an unquenchable thirst for oil and gas. We get around 30 per cent of our fossil fuels from offshore reserves and this is likely to increase because of sensitivities of extraction ashore, with all the environmental implications and the improving technology which allows extraction of these precious fuels from increasingly deeper depths under the sea bed. Additionally, ‘Subsea Mining’ is likely to be another area of growth, especially as subsea mineral deposits can be up to ten times as concentrated as land-mined deposits.
With this unprecedented growth, the demand for more ports and ports with greater capacity is inevitable. Michael McNicholas said: “If you compared modern commerce to the human body, the shipping lanes would be the arteries and veins, ships and intermodal vehicles the blood; their cargo, the nutrients; and the seaports the all-important organs.”
In stark contrast to this inexorable growth of commercial activities at sea, our navies have been reduced drastically. Since the end of the Cold War in 1990, there has been a significant reduction in western nations’ naval fleets; in short, they have shrunk. The European states have reduced their naval fleets by more than 37 per cent. Whilst the US navy remains the largest in the world, as a result of Congressional Sequestration the ‘Fleet Optimisation Plan’ has determined that only two of the US Navy’s 10 Carrier Battle Groups are actually at sea at any one time. The startling consequence of this reduction in naval vessels at sea patrolling and dominating the Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) is that the increasing commercial maritime activity is more and more exposed to risk from the spectrum of maritime security threats.
The diversity of maritime crime is as great as crime on land. It ranges from pilfering and theft in ports, maritime fraud, smuggling, trafficking, stowaways and robbery at sea and piracy, right through to maritime terrorism. The maritime industry is also beginning to understand the potential for cyber security threats in the maritime domain, which could be significant, especially as there is no mechanical link between the bridge and the engine room or the rudder; it is all digital.
However one area displaying a worrying increase in activity is maritime terrorism. Terrorism at sea has been a feature since 1961 when a 12 man team (six from Portugal and six from Spain) took over the cruise ship Santa Maria sailing from Curacao to Miami for a period before the US Navy intervened and resolved the incident. Whilst often referred to as a maritime terrorist attack, the taking of the cruise ship the Achille Lauro in 1985 happened when PLO terrorists preparing for a land attack were surprised in their cabin and were forced to take over the ship killing one passenger.
In 2000, the USS Cole, one of the most sophisticated warships at the time, was defeated by a man in a rubber boat loaded with improvised explosives. In 2002 there was a similar style of attack against the MV Limburg, a Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC), when she was at sea off Yemen, where a small fast-moving boat packed with explosives detonated against the side and blew a large gash in the side of the ship.
In 2004 Superferry 14 was attacked by terrorists just outside Manilla Bay in the Philippines, killing 63 people in the explosion and a further 53 drowned after jumping overboard. The terrorist amphibious raid on Mumbai exploited the weaknesses of the ‘wet’ side of the port’s security system with a sustained attack lasting several days, killing 164 and wounding more than 300 people. The attack on the Japanese VLCC M Star in the Straits of Hormuz in August 2010 remains a partial mystery but, if it had been successful it would have been devastating and caused a serious navigation and environmental hazard in one of the world’s busiest maritime choke points. In September 2013, there was a foiled attack on a container ship transiting the Suez Canal by Islamic activists mounting an ad hoc attack with Rocket Propelled Grenades, but again highlight the vulnerabilities of global maritime choke points.
There has been some evidence of Al Qaeda exploring maritime terrorism opportunities in the past, and in October 2014, in a new propaganda publication, they urged attacks on the ‘Achilles Heel of Western Economies’ stating that ‘if a single super tanker were to be attacked in one of the chokepoints or hijacked and scuttled in one of the narrow sea lanes the consequences would be phenomenal’.
Maybe, as a result of this, the momentum and daring of the terrorist attacks seems to have reached new levels. In July last year ISIL claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on an Egyptian naval vessel anchored in the Mediterranean and there was a foiled attempt by Al Qaeda to seize the Pakistani Frigate PNS Zulfiqar in Karachi naval base last September.
The terrorist is conservative in outlook; they will watch carefully to see where criminals expose loopholes in security and then consider whether or not an attack exploiting this weakness will fulfil their ideological objectives and, if so, the likelihood of success.
As the number of commercial ships increases and the presence of navies decreases the criminal opportunities will increase and more openings for terrorists will become evident.
In the recently published US Navy document A design for maintaining maritime superiority, it states they need to ‘increase the volume and range of interaction with commercial industry’ and ‘seek opportunities through non-traditional partners’.
The use of private maritime security companies as a public private partnership has been fundamental in the managing of piracy off the East Coast of Africa. There has not been a successful hijacking of a commercial vessel since May 2012 and as RAdm Duncan Potts (former Commander of EUNAVFOR) said ‘private maritime security companies have a 100 per cent record of success’.
Whilst there in no way that private security companies could or should provide the entire maritime security solution, we should, as the US Navy suggests look at ‘non-traditional’ ways by working together to provide a cost effective, timely deterrent against maritime criminals and reduce the risk of an increase in maritime terrorism.