To strengthen maritime security it is crucial that researchers work closely together. The Maritime Security mailing list was launched in 2014 by piracy-studies.org to facilitate cooperation between maritime security researchers and other interested actors. To subscribe to the mailing list please follow the link here.
To facilitate collaboration and dialogue across the different sectors and domains of maritime security in different regional waters and the global oceans, subscribers are invited to join the list and use it to
Inform about recent studies, articles and books in the field of maritime security (including promoting their own work).
Circulate call for papers and advertise events, workshops and conferences. These should be directed at or of interested for analysts and scholars in the field of maritime security and should be not-for-profit.
Raise questions on distinct research topics in the field of maritime security or invite to comment on a piece of work, such as a draft paper.
Point to major new policy documents and developments which are of general interest to the group (such as a new maritime security strategy).
Tim Edmunds, Christian Bueger, and Scott Edwards have been working closely with the UK maritime security policy makers throughout the NSMS process as part of the SafeSeas research programme, co-hosted by the universities of Bristol and Copenhagen.
The launch event itself is a collaboration between SafeSeas and the UK’s Department for Transport and Joint Maritime Security Centre. Funded by the University of Bristol’s Policy Support Fund and an ESRC Impact Acceleration Award, it takes the form of an IdeasLab in which key themes and issues from the Strategy will be discussed by an expert audience comprising maritime security policy makers and practitioners, academics, and wider stakeholders.
Discussion will focus around panels on strategy making, on current priorities and future threats, on coordinating responses across land and sea, and on regions and priorities.
Attendance at the IdeasLab is by invitation only. However, the discussion will be summarised in a policy report to be released on the SafeSeas website in late June.
Tackling maritime insecurity in order to enhance the blue economy, restore ocean health, but also to strengthen blue justice, continues to be one of the major challenges for today’s governments. Much attention is being paid to these ocean challenges in countries across the African continent.
For outside observers, Ghana has emerged as an African role model on what can be done to address maritime security. As a major port state, rich in offshore fossil resources, located in West Africa and part of the Gulf of Guinea region, Ghana has made significant efforts. It has also received substantial support from the international community and hosts important regional initiatives, such as the Regional Maritime University.
AMARIS meets Ghana’s maritime security community
The Analyzing Maritime Insecurity in Ghana project (AMARIS) has studied maritime security work in Ghana over the past two years. AMARIS is a collective research project carried out by the Center for Maritime Law and Security in Africa (CEMLAWS), the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Center (KAIPTC), the University of Ghana (UGhana), and University of Copenhagen (UCPH) in association with the SafeSeas network on maritime security. It is funded by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs administered by DANIDA.
In April 2022, AMARIS discussed its key findings with Ghana’s maritime security community at an event held in Accra hosted by CEMLAWS. Representatives from over 20 organizations, governmental agencies, non-governmental organizations, and international donors participated. 24 speakers gave short presentations across four panels. Covered extensively by national news. the event raised attention for current challenges and the next steps Ghana should take. See the full program here.
High level attention
The opening session featured welcome remarks from the organizers, Prof. Christian Bueger (UCPH&SafeSeas) and Dr. Kamal-Deen Ali (CEMLAWS), followed by introductory speeches by Antwi Akosa, Deputy Director General, Ghana Maritime Authority, Francis Ofori, Commandant of KAIPTC, the Danish Ambassador HE Tom Noerring, and Alban Bagbin, the Speaker of the Parliament of Ghana.
Speakers re-emphasized their strong commitment to address maritime security, flagged the different challenges that the maritime environment is facing, and highlighted that crucial steps are taken, such as the finalization of the National Integrated Maritime Strategy (known as NIMS).
Threats and Challenges in Ghana’s maritime domain
The next panel, chaired by AMARIS member Prof. Kwesi Anning (KAIPTC) focused on threats and challenges in Ghana’s maritime domain. In the key note presentation, AMARIS researcher Dr. Anna Mensah provided an overview of the landscape of challenges Ghana has to cope with, drawing on AMARIS policy reports (available here).
Haruna Osman from the Narcotics Commission, Noemie Simon from the Environmental Justice Foundation, Charles Osei from the Marine Police, and Sam Ayelazono from the Ghana Navy gave short presentations on the main challenges they currently see.
Piracy often grabs the headlines, but the actual picture of crimes and illicit activities that need attention is much broader. Critical issues, such as illicit fishing or a wide ranger of smuggling activities need to be confronted. This became clear in Dr. Mensah’s presentation and also the panelists stressed the impact of different crimes.
As the panelists argued, more focus on the driving forces of criminal activities at sea is imperative. Greediness and poverty, lack of attention and information sharing, but also a culture of impunity drives illicit activities. The panel documented that maritime actors have different concerns, which often makes it difficult for the maritime security community to agree on shared priorities.
Effective maritime security governance
The next panel focused on maritime security governance and how to make it more effective. In his keynote presentation, Dr. Kamal-Deen Ali presented the key insights from AMARIS. Arguing for a wide understanding of governance that goes beyond legal procedures and emphasizes accountability and inclusivity, he elaborated on the complexity of the maritime security sector in Ghana, drawing on an AMARIS policy paper (available here). He called for more attention to this complexity and the need that each actor plays its part in a cooperative spirit.
Kwame Governs Agbodza, Member of Parliament, Francis Micah from the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority, AMARIS member Prof. Ransford Gyampo from the University of Ghana and Emmanuel Ankamah from the Ghana Maritime Authority commented from the perspective of particular members of the maritime security community.
The panel flagged the importance of ensuring accountability in maritime security. In particular, the parliament needs to pays close attention to ongoing developments and muster the necessary political will. The quality of law enforcement depends on solid legislations as much as effective budgeting.
Panelist highlighted the dangers of turf wars between the agencies. Competition over authority, responsibility and resources might undermine efficacy. The National Integrated Maritime Strategy (NIMS) that is currently finalized provides a major opportunity for organizing governance better. It will allow agencies and other members of the maritime security community to find their role and work towards common objectives. All panelists called for lending strong support to the strategy.
Towards effective capacity building
Like other countries on the African continent, also Ghana benefits from international capacity building assistance. To deliver on its ambitions, Ghana’s maritime security community needs expertise, training and resources that are often not yet available in the country. This was the focus of the third panel chaired by AMARIS member Dr. Emma Birikorang (KAIPTC).
Dr. Katja Lindskov Jacobsen (UCPH) gave the key note presentation drawing on the research of AMARIS in this area. She emphasized lack of attention for how the expertise, skills and resources developed in capacity building are used. Efficacy could be improved if this is better monitored and attention for potential cases of misuse is needed.
Dr. Eunice Konadu Asamoah from the University of Ghana, Harry Barnes from the Port Environment Network Africa, Prof. Nana Ofosu Boateng from the Regional Maritime University and Derrick Attachie from the Global Maritime Crime Programme of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime commented on the presentation.
Panelists agreed that the impact of capacity building can be strengthened. They encouraged bottom up thinking, concentrating efforts not only within state agencies but also civil society and paying more attention to the long term impact of working with local training and higher educational institutions. They also pointed to the dangers of duplication and miscoordination that a lack of transparency on capacity building might cause.
The next steps
The day was concluded with a summary of key points by the organizers. Dr. Ali Kamal-Deen and Prof. Christian Bueger emphasized the importance of a cooperative spirit within the maritime security community. They called for strong support for the NIMS and flagged that the strategy provides a major window of opportunity.
Bueger also outlined some of the emerging themes that did not receive much attention so far. Drawing on a forthcoming AMARIS policy report, he argued that Ghana’s maritime security debate must start to pay more attention to the impacts of climate change and how it will present new challenges for maritime law enforcement or might lead to new patterns of crime.
He argued for a better understanding of environmental crimes, beyond illicit fishing, that have the potential to harm marine life significantly. Also the protection of critical subsea infrastructures, such as subsea data cables vital for Ghana’s digital economy, must be placed higher on the agenda.
Tim Edmunds and Scott Edwards submitted evidence to the Defence Committee inquiry ‘Operation Isotrope: the use of the military to counter migrant crossings’. The inquiry considered the role of the Armed Forces in countering Channel crossings by migrants (Op Isotrope), and the wider implications for Defence, including what assets will be used, who will pay for them, how success will be measured and what the chain of command and reporting arrangements will be.
To support this suggestion, it laid out the role of the UK’s current architecture with the Joint Maritime Security Centre at the center, as well as capacity constraints given the RN’s other extant and potential operational commitments. The evidence also focused on the operational limitations brought about by legal obligations under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and other maritime conventions, and ethical considerations regarding the treatment of migrant/refugee boats in the Channel;
Tim Edmunds and Scott Edwards recently wrote concerning the UK’s plan for the Royal Navy to take control of the small boat crossings in the Channel. Original link.
The Home Office has announced a plan to bring in the Royal Navy to take charge of policing the English Channel after the number of migrants attempting the crossing in small boats tripled in 2021. Full details of the plan have not been revealed, but appear to involve the navy taking a leadership and planning role, as well as possibly providing additional vessels to augment the Border Force cutters already at sea.
Certainly, at first glance, the navy has the potential to bring more resources to the problem. Border Force currently operates five cutters and six coastal patrol vessels, whereas the navy has many more ships suited to maritime security tasks. These include 16 Archer class patrol vessels and eight of the larger and more capable River class offshore patrol vessels.
With so many vessels already in use elsewhere, it seems unlikely that the Admiralty will welcome new deployments to the Channel -– especially so soon after an announcement that Border Force is receiving money for an upgraded fleet of cutters.
Pushing back on pushbacks
But even if capacity could be found, it’s unclear how naval involvement could help to change the situation in the Channel.
The Home Office’s ambition has been to “push back” small boats – that is using ships to prevent access to British waters and waiting for the French coastguard to return the vessels. Perhaps there is a hope that the Royal Navy will put some backbone into this policy, especially given that Border Force’s union has recently threatened strikes if pushbacks are implemented.
Any such hopes are likely to be in vain. There is a duty within international law for a ship to attempt the rescue of persons at danger at sea. This is enshrined in Article 98 of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea and elsewhere. The Royal Navy is just as bound by the law of the sea as Border Force.
When navies in other countries have ignored their duties to International Law, tragedies have followed. Thailand’s Royal Navy, for example, has been widely pilloried for its policy of pushing back Rohingya refugees, with hundreds thought to have died.
The navy has already indicated that it has little appetite for such pushbacks, and any extra capacity it can bring is most likely to be deployed in search and rescue tasks.
Indeed, saving lives at sea is ingrained in the navy’s ethos and operational history. It played a key role in UK maritime search and rescue until 2015 and humanitarian assistance remains one of its core missions. During wartime, Royal Navy ships regularly rescued the stricken crews of sunken enemy warships where they could, including many from the Bismarck.
What the navy can do
If the navy cannot easily contribute vessels or engage in pushbacks, its primary contribution may be to share information and help monitor the Channel. In this way, it could serve as part of wider maritime security architecture in which each agency plays its own role in preventing either the crossings or tragedies from occurring.
But the announcement, by the UK home secretary, Priti Patel, comes as a surprise because that is exactly what’s already happening.
Since 2010, the UK has invested considerable effort in creating an integrated maritime security structure. The Joint Maritime Security Centre, established in 2020, coordinates the UK’s maritime assets and helps different agencies to work together at sea. Hosted by the navy, it enables cross-agency information sharing through its Maritime Domain Awareness programme.
In essence, the navy is already having an operational impact. It is difficult to see how it can move beyond this or would want to do so. The UK needs to move beyond populist announcements on the small boat problem and develop a response along three lines.
First, it should continue its efforts to develop the maritime security architecture that facilitates interagency working. Second, it needs to foster closer cooperation with France and Belgium to help manage this shared problem of human desperation and misery.
Finally, it should recognise that policing at sea can only address symptoms rather than causes of increased Channel crossings. A long-term solution requires the reestablishment of humane and accessible refugee and migration routes into the UK.
Scott Edwards presented ‘Blue criminology: towards a trans-disciplinary understanding of crime at sea’ at the 24 Hour Conference on Global Organized Crime. The panel, moderated by SafeSeas co-director Tim Edmunds, also featured Mercedes Rosello (Leeds Beckett University) presenting ‘Towards a ‘blue’ criminology: How should we study transnational organised crime at sea?’, Anna Sergi (University of Essex) presenting ‘The journeys of complex crimes through the port, from the sea and into the city’, and Nigel South (University of Essex) presenting ‘Oyster gatherers and cockle pickers: organised crime and illegal harvesting of seafood ‘.
Transnational organised crime at sea is a growing international concern. These ‘blue crimes’, including piracy, smuggling, and environmental crimes such as illegal fishing, challenge maritime security law enforcement practitioners and ask new questions of academics and researchers.
By their very nature, such crimes cross boundaries. They implicate different geographical spaces, including both land and sea; they take place across national borders and jurisdictional lines; they challenge existing (often terra-centric) regional constructs; and they evidence important intersections and linkages across and between different criminal activities and networks.
In consequence, the study of blue crime is not easily confined to neat disciplinary silos. It requires insight, work and dialogue across and between multiple relevant disciplines: criminology and green criminology, international relations and security studies, law, development studies, and political geography amongst others. But how can such work take place productively? What pitfalls does it face? And what contribution can it make to the fight against transnational organised crime at sea?
This panel brought together a multi-disciplinary group of experts to consider these questions. In so doing, it outlined the contours of a new blue criminology, considered the scope and promise of such an approach, and reflected on what a blue criminological research agenda might look like going forward.
The inquiry explored the extent to which the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which came into force in 1994, remains fit for purpose in 2021. It examined the enforcement of UNCLOS, its dispute resolution mechanisms, and the extent to which is has proved able to adapt to new and emerging challenges, including climate change, autonomous maritime systems, and issues of human rights and human security at sea. It explored the UK’s current policy towards UNCLOS and approach in practice, and considered which international partners and alliances will be important for the UK to address these challenges and uphold its interests.
The evidence, authored by Scott Edwards, Christian Bueger, Tim Edmunds, Basil Germond, Tobias Liebetrau & Jan Stockbruegger, foregrounded political and security factors when reviewing the status of UNCLOS and its capacity to deal with contemporary challenges at sea. It argued that UNCLOS continues to serve the interests of the UK and other maritime powers, and that contemporary questions for UNCLOS therefore primarily concern its implementation in the face of new challenges. The evidence explored state-sponsored challenges, climate change, blue crimes, and undersea cables.
It recommended that addressing these challenges will entail amendments or additions to existing international treaties, legal and maritime law enforcement capacity building with partner states, the strengthening or maritime security cooperation and information sharing arrangements between states and within regions, and the sharing and implementation of lessons learned and best practices (for example from piracy prosecutions) between regions and across issue areas. Specifically, it focused on collective seapower, leadership in the UNSC, a renewed role for NATO, MDA and operational coordination and capacity building, and a new subsea cable regime.
Despite the magnitude and implications of transnational organized crime at sea, until recently, the problem had received only minimal attention. That is surprising considering its far-reaching consequences on coastal communities, and its direct correlation to national security. Transnational organized crime at sea, or ‘blue crimes’ include trafficking of arms and light weapons, humans and narcotics, environmental crimes that destroy ecosystems, piracy and armed robbery at sea, and territorial crimes that breach the laws and rules governing territories and jurisdictions.
Blue crimes, often perpetrated by criminals that operate across coastal countries and networks, also have negative implications on the economic prosperity and wellbeing of individuals in coastal communities; more broadly, on the human security of coastal states along the Gulf of Guinea. Ghana is substantially affected by various manifestations of these types of crimes. Specifically, acts of piracy, stowing away, human trafficking, narcotics trafficking and illegal importation of medicines, arms smuggling and illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing. In sum, the policy paper examines the true blue crimes picture in Ghana. Read the in-depth analysis of the subject in a report by the AMARIS project. Access the whole report here.
The Gulf of Guinea is a global hotspot for maritime insecurity. Ghana, a country in this region, has had its share of blue crime in its waters. This makes it a relevant object of study partly because the country continues to suffer acts of maritime insecurity, including piracy. At the same time, it is also experiencing a major push by external actors interested in helping to strengthen maritime security, with specific focus on piracy. Although piracy is the main focus of external actors’ maritime security engagements, it is neither the only nor necessarily the most pressing maritime security challenge Ghana is confronted with. For Ghanaian coastal communities, and in several other Gulf of Guinea (GoG) states, for instance, illegal fishing represents a bigger challenge to livelihoods, jobs and food security.
To combat maritime insecurity in Ghana, many external actors prefer maritime capacity building as a method of engagement. Through this intervention, external actors, such as the European Union (EU), the United Nations (UN), the United States of America (USA) or individual EU countries, assist Ghana (and other GoG states) with the aim of strengthening various capacities needed to improve maritime security. Capacity building can take various forms, ranging from training to donations of equipment, such as computers or patrol boats. In short, the policy paper examines capacity building negotiations in Ghana. Read an in-depth analysis of the matter in a report by the AMARIS project. Access the report here.
The JMSC was formed in 2020 and provides the UK with one dedicated ‘centre of excellence’ of maritime security. Incorporating the National Maritime Information Centre and Joint Maritime Operations Coordination Centre, the JMSC works across multiple government departments and agencies to coordinate the UK’s maritime security responses, both nationally and globally.
This whole-of-government approach is necessary because of the range of different organisations and authorities engaged in maritime security tasks, across departments as diverse as the Home Office, MoD, DEFRA, DfT, FCDO and Marine Scotland amongst others. Coordinating between such a wide range of departments, each with their own priorities and interests, is not straightforward, and requires significant trust-building between agencies.
The JMSC’s work in this area is facilitated by a number of features:
First, it is independent from any single department, and jointly resourced between them. This independence allows it to provide an environment where agencies work together on equal footing towards their (sometimes different) priorities without any one agenda dominating.
Second, it is jointly staffed by a range of Whitehall departments and agencies. By bringing staff together into one organisation, the JMSC aims to construct a collective sense of purpose between relevant stakeholders, while retaining their individual agency identities.
Third, it has a primarily operational focus, bringing together different groups of practitioners around common problems and tasks. This has allowed the centre to side-step more politically charged issues such as inter-agency competition or resource allocation.
Finally, the Centre facilitates cross-departmental/agency information sharing through the Royal Navy’s Maritime Domain Awareness programme and individual agency information sources. Information sharing both builds trust in and of itself, but also contributes to a common understanding of threat and priority.
There are challenges to this structure, however. A consequence of the JMSC’s independence, for example, is that it is not ‘owned’ by a single ministry and is therefore jointly funded. Maintaining the JMSC’s activities requires political will to ensure the necessary funding continues past the current short term funding cycle on which it currently relies.
There are other areas where the JMSC demonstrates its value beyond its trust-building, information-sharing, and the ability to quickly respond to crises. The centre also serves a diplomatic function, for example. It has developed international relationships with other information centres such as the IFC in Singapore and national partners. Through this, it has the potential to be an important actor in the UK’s ambition to develop relationships in the Indo-Pacific.
The Indo-Pacific faces significant issues of maritime insecurity, and countries are forming their own coordinated maritime security agencies in response. The JMSC serves as an example of successful coordination and information-sharing, and lessons learnt have the potential to be shared with regional partners – increasing the UK’s influence over maritime security responses in the region.
In relation to this, Scott and Tim discussed SafeSeas’ current research on the Indo-Pacific and the fragmentation of regional responses to issues of maritime insecurity. The discussion specifically centred on the implications of this fragmentation, and the likelihood of more centralised cooperation in future. They also discussed their research on inter-agency coordination in Southeast Asia, due to the regional coordination bodies facing similar challenges to the JMSC.
Scott and Tim also visited the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Information Centre (MTIC) which administers the UK Maritime Trade Organisation (UKMTO) and the Maritime Domain Awareness Trade – Gulf of Guinea (MDAT-GOG) initiative in partnership with the French Navy. The MTIC is a Royal Navy capability with the principal purpose of providing an information conduit between security forces and the wider international maritime trade. With strong relationships with the shipping industry, the MTIC is able to inform relevant regional authorities and warn and advise vessels in the near vicinity of any incidents.
Traditionally closed off to outsiders, shipping companies from across the world share information with the MTIC as their vessels pass through areas of high risk so that it can assist in responding swiftly to problems. With these strong relationships with the shipping industry, the MTIC is able to inform relevant regional authorities and warn and advise vessels in the near vicinity of any incidents. Such a reputation has taken time to develop, and there is currently no other similar mechanism elsewhere, making it an essential conduit for information across the maritime sector as a whole.
The Partnership for Conflict, Crime & Security Research, the Centre for Maritime Law & Security, and SafeSeas are hosting a webinar on ‘Trading Waste: The UK Ghana Route and the Illicit E Waste Economy’. The event will be held online at 12.00 GMT, on the 20th October.
Chaired by Dr. Kamal-Deen Ali, the event features Kanchelli Iddrisu (University of Cambridge), Professor Brenda Chalfin (University of Florida), Dr. Irekpitan Okukpon (Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies), Dr Dagna Rams (Université de Lausanne), Professor Henrik Vigh (University of Copenhagen), and Lawrence Kotoe (Environmental Protection Agency, Ghana).
The Global South has a problem with other people’s electronic waste. The world produces as much as 50 million tonnes of e-waste per year – over six kilogrammes for every person on the planet. Of this, only around 20 per cent is recycled. The rest is disposed of in landfill or informally recycled, often by hand, in countries in the Global South. Such work exposes workers, sometimes children, to hazardous and carcinogenic substances including mercury, lead and cadmium. E-waste in landfill can pollute soil and groundwater and put food supply systems and water sources at risk. A significant proportion of this waste is exported illegally to avoid costly environmental regulation and health and safety requirements.
In 2021, UKRI’s Partnership for Conflict Crime and Security Research commissioned a project to examine the UK-Ghana trade in e-waste, in partnership with the Centre for Maritime Law and Security Africa (CEMLAWS) and SafeSeas. The project zoomed in on eight different sites along the UK-Ghana e-waste trade route, starting with the manufacture of goods, following their journey through consumption, disposal, export, import and recycling, and ending with the reexport of scrap metal from Ghana. The result was a report published in July 2021.
This panel brings together leading experts on the global waste trade to discuss the report findings and reflect on their wider implications for environmental governance, maritime security and the fight against organised crime. In so doing it addresses questions:
How much do we know about the global e-waste trade? Where are the main data gaps?
What is the extent of organised criminal involvement in the global e-waste trade?
How can (and should) the global trade in e-waste best be tackled? Are new capacities, regulations and countermeasures required?