Roundtable on Maritime Crime in Copenhagen

On Monday, the 27th of May, 2019 SafeSeas is organising a public roundtable titled “Uncovering Hidden Maritime Crimes – Consequences for the Shipping Industry”. The event is jointly organised by Danish Shipping, the University of Copenhagen and SafeSeas.

While it is maritime piracy that catches most of the attention, there is less awareness of the detrimental impact of other crimes in the maritime domain. The roundtable focuses on these hidden maritime crimes and what kind of consequences and costs they imply for the shipping industry. Focusing on stowaways, human trafficking and the smuggling of illicit goods and narcotics, the goal of the event is to situate these crimes in a broader context and discuss how they can be tackled and addressed.

Panelists include Mr. Alan Cole, Head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime Global Maritime Crime Programme, discussing smuggling, Dr. Eugenio Cusumano, Assistant Professor, Leiden University, discussing illegal migration in the Mediterranean, Dr. Amaha Senu, Research Associate, Seafarers International Research Centre, discussing stowaways and Dr. Ursula Daxecker, Associate Professor, University of Amsterdam, discussing the nexus between different forms of maritime crime and their root causes.

Registration is through this link

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To strengthen maritime security it is crucial that researchers work closely together. The Maritime Security mailing list was launched in 2014 by to facilitate cooperation between maritime security researchers and other interested actors. To subscribe to the mailing list please follow the link here.

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Growing, yet cautious, optimism – maritime security in the Philippines

Safeseas Research Associate Scott Edwards recently visited the Philippines and had the opportunity to assess some of the over-arching themes of Philippine maritime security focused upon by security practitioners.

The Philippines faces a large array of security issues, ranging from kidnappings that fund terrorist activities; piracy in an area in which over $40 billion dollars’ worth of cargo flows; trafficking of drugs, weapons and people; cigarette, alcohol and fuel smuggling; and illegal fishing which not only destroys marine habitats but also damages the economy of the Philippines.

At a policy level, however, the government and Navy mainly continues to focus on traditional areas of geopolitics – primarily concerned about China’s overlapping claims in the South of China Sea. This can divert attention from the need to address the wide array of transnational organised crimes at sea that take place in the waters of the Philippines.

The diversity of maritime threats also complicates enforcement. The Navy, Coast Guard, National Police Maritime Group, and National Coast Watch Center (NCWC) form the centre of a crowded web of institutions that are all mandated to contribute to various aspects of maritime security. The thing that unifies them is that all are primarily concerned over their lack of capability, mainly understood as physical assets. Lobbying for greater resources is often difficult and maritime security budgets remain dominated by the Navy. In consequence, members of the Coast Guard and Navy have suggested education and advocacy are required to raise awareness of the scope of maritime security issues. So far, this has been done through a Maritime and Archipelagic Nation Awareness month, led by the National Coast Watch Council.

180903-N-QV906-0023 AT SEA (September 3, 2018) (U.S. photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Micah Blechner/RELEASED)

There is recognition from all agencies involved that more efficient cooperation could assist in mitigating the capability gap through the pooling of resources. However, there continue to be challenges of coordination and some confusion over over-lapping roles. The Navy and Coast Guard were separated in 1998, and often find themselves in competition over resources. This can lead to a lack of transparency and sometimes tension between the two agencies.

Recently, there have been some promising movements concerning coordination despite these issues, and there is a sense of optimism amongst the agencies that relations are heading in the right direction. Two developments in particular stand out.

First, a National Coast Watch Centre (NCWC) was implemented in 2015 to act as point of contact for maritime security coordination. While the NCWC currently lacks ‘command’ potential (compared, for example, to neighbouring Thailand’s Maritime Enforcement Command Centre (MECC)), it has the potential to enhance inter-agency coordination by serving as both a focal point and source of knowledge concerning the Philippine’s territorial waters. The NCWC operates an expanding Coast Watch System, which forms the core of the Philippine’s Maritime Domain Awareness through coastal surveillance.

Second, an inter-agency protocol has been drafted with the intention of further facilitating cooperation. This is perceived as being a significant step towards defining different agency responsibilities in Philippine’s maritime security, though if it falls short of a full national maritime strategy.

International cooperation around maritime security has also become an important focus for the Philippines. The Coast Guard has led initiatives including the ‘Contact Group’ on maritime crime in the Sulu and Celebes seas co-hosted by the UNODC Global Maritime Crime Programme and bringing together maritime security actors from across the region, and also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Indonesian Maritime Security Agency (BAKAMLA). A Trilateral Cooperative Agreement between Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, incorporating coordinated patrols in the Sulu-Celebes seas and information-sharing, is also maturing despite ongoing sovereignty disputes.

As a result of these initiatives, there is an increasing, yet still cautious, optimism that despite expected capability gaps in terms of assets, the Philippines will be able to better achieve maritime security if it continues to strengthen coordination both domestically and internationally.

Members from the Maritime Group, NCWC, Navy and Coastguard have all argued that the most important future step would be a maritime security strategy that clearly identifies the problems and priorities of Philippines maritime security and then delineates the roles of the various maritime agencies within this. This would assist in bringing forward wider maritime security issues beyond geopolitics. It would also have the potential to ease some existing obstacles to coordination by demonstrating nodes of common interest, establishing areas of responsibility and offering and a clearer basis for action going forward.

Safeseas directors present at the Global Maritime Security Conference, Nigeria

Safeseas directors Timothy Edmunds and Christian Bueger attended the Global Maritime Security Conference in Abuja, Nigeria, on the 7th to 9th of October 2019. The high-level conference brought together 2300 delegates from 76 countries, and was organised by the Federal Ministry of Transportation, Nigeria, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), and the Nigerian Navy.

Christian Bueger spoke on the first day, leading the discussion for the thematic session ‘Balancing Geopolitical, Economic and Geostrategic Interests in Maritime Security Initiatives’. Recognising the complexity of attaining maritime security due to issues of sovereignty, the discussion focused on the importance of balancing the geostrategic interests of international actors with those in the Gulf of Guinea in order to identify areas where interests could dovetail.

Timothy Edmunds was the lead speaker on the ‘Future of Maritime Security: Trends, Emerging Threat Vectors and Capability Requirements’. A summary of his talking points can be found on the Safeseas website, and focused primarily on comprehensive approaches to capacity-building to achieve stability at sea. 

Safeseas directors Timothy Edmunds and Christian Bueger at the Global Maritime Security Conference, Nigeria

Other panels focused on areas such as the Blue Economy, regional cooperation, the role of civil society, and enhancing Maritime Domain Awareness.

Building safe seas in the Gulf of Guinea

Professor Edmunds delivering his lead speech at the Global Maritime Security Conference, Nigeria

On 7-9 October 2019, SafeSeas co-director Tim Edmunds was a lead speaker at the Global Maritime Security Conference in Abuja Nigeria. The high-level conference was organised by the Federal Ministry of Transportation, Nigeria, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the Nigerian Navy. It brought together 2300 delegates from 76 countries to consider maritime security challenges in the Gulf of Guinea region. Professor Edmunds was lead speaker for the thematic session on the Future of Maritime Security.

His remarks set out the main contours of the maritime security challenge, arguing that these issues are of critical importance to coastal states in the Gulf of Guinea, and to the global economy and environment more widely. However, maritime insecurities are complex and multifaceted. They entail issues of national security, economic development, environmental protection and human security. They are also interdependent in the sense that problems in one area may lead to or exacerbate problems in others. They are transnational in that they are shared between states. They are problems of the land as well as of the sea, and present significant jurisdictional complexity, between states, between the range of institutions implicated in addressing them, and between public and private sectors.

The role of international actors in addressing these issues in the Gulf of Guinea is complex and contested and best practices are not always easily transferable from other regions. Indeed, effective responses to maritime insecurities in the Gulf of Guinea most likely lie close to home and draw on regional states’ own maritime security capabilities. In this context, the most effective and realistic role for international actors in the short to medium terms is helping to assist local states in developing their maritime security institutions such as coastguards and marine police, but also in relation to facilitating capacities such as court systems, maritime domain awareness mechanisms and coordination bodies and practices. International actors also have a role to play in policing and regulation at home, particularly with regard to industrial illegal fishing activities.

Professor Edmunds concluded with four observations on longer term responses to maritime insecurities in the Gulf of Guinea. The first is to pay attention to the underlying causes that lead people to engage in maritime crime, in particular issues of economic exclusion and deprivation on land. Second, to pay attention the interconnections between issues: maritime security is about more than just piracy. Third, to suggest approaching maritime security as a problem of land-based organised crime as much as violence at sea; and to focus on the kingpins of such crimes as well as their foot soldiers. And finally, to tailor key longer term capacity building objectives on this basis, including criminal intelligence and investigative capacities on land.

Workshop on Security Sector Reform in the Philippines

Safeseas research associate Scott Edwards was invited to attend the 7th Workshop on Security Sector Reform, focusing on Maritime Security Sector Reform and Governance. Organised by the Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, and the National Defense College of the Philippines, the event brought together maritime security practitioners from various institutions and organisations in the Philippines. These included the National Security Council, the Coast Guard, the National Coast Watch Center, and the Navy, as well as non-state actors and organisations.

Scott delivered a presentation that focused on insights from the Safeseas best practice toolkit, applying it directly to the issues the Philippines faces concerning transnational organised crime at sea. Drawing upon the best practice toolkit, one area he specifically focused on was the potential means of facilitating more effective coordination in enforcement, including through establishing coordination structures and the potential of maritime domain awareness as a trust-building tool. He also facilitated mini workshops within the event that aimed at encouraging security sector actors to think reflexively about security sector reform and the challenges to it.

Attendees of the 7th Workshop on Security Sector Reform

In other talks, China, sovereignty and international law were dominant themes. Further discussions, however, centered on addressing capability in enforcement against transnational organised crime at sea, as well as the important role of education and the need to bring other stakeholders, such as coastal communities, into the maritime security sector.

Into the sea: capacity-building innovations and the maritime security challenge

Safeseas is pleased to announce an article co-authored by directors Tim Edmunds and Christian Bueger, and former Research Associate Robert McCabe, has been published in Third World Quarterly.

Titled ‘Into the sea: capacity-building innovations and the maritime security challenge’, the article argues that maritime security capacity-building not only requires further study, but should also be used as an archetype to develop insights for capacity-building and security sector reform more broadly.

Specifically, the article uses the case of the West Indian Ocean to explore capacity-building as a response primarily to Somali piracy. Through this exploration, they are able to examine the innovative characteristics of capacity-building in the maritime sector, which can be used to expand the capacity-building agenda as it is traditionally understood.

The innovations highlighted are: the way in which new types of regional constellations have been produced by thinking from the sea, rather than the land (building regions); the use of informality and networks as a coordination and governance tool (building networks); and the ways in which new forms of technology have been appropriated to make security knowledge production and surveillance an essential element of projects (producing maritime security knowledge).

While challenges and failures are also highlighted, recognising the complexity of the practice of building maritime capacity, capacity-building efforts remain novel in terms of design and approach, and therefore provide the opportunity to develop insights into how to improve capacity-building more broadly.

International Affairs special issue on Maritime Security edited by Safeseas Directors

Safeseas are pleased to announce that co-directors Christian Bueger and Timothy Edmunds, alongside Barry J. Ryan, have edited a special volume of International Affairs centred around maritime security.

The special issues builds upon on their previous article ‘Beyond seablindness: a new agenda for maritime security studies’ that argued that developments in the maritime arena have flown beneath the radar of much mainstream international relations and security studies scholarship, and that a new agenda for maritime security studies was required. In the introduction of the special issue, ‘Maritime security: the uncharted politics of the global sea’, they reiterate their call for more scholarly attention to be paid to the maritime environment in international relations and security studies. They further argue that the contemporary maritime security agenda should be understood as an interlinked set of challenges of growing global, regional and national significance, and comprising issues of national, environmental, economic and human security. The five contributions in the special issue set out to advance this understanding, with two having a more traditional perspective, while three analyse non-traditional areas.             

In the first article, ‘Regional maritime security in the eastern Mediterranean: expectations and reality’, Aviad Rubin and Ehud Eiran analyse the limited regional cooperation of political entities along the shores of the eastern Mediterranean regarding recent developments in the eastern Mediterranean, such as significant gas finds; disagreements over the demarcation of maritime boundaries; large-scale violence and political instability following the Arab Spring; mass migration via sea routes; Great Power dynamics in the region; and environmental hazards.

Douglas Gilfoyle analyses the rule of law in maritime security, questioning whether it matters. In ‘The rule of law and maritime security: understanding lawfare in the South China Sea’. Arguing that international law provides tools for argument for or against the validity of certain practices, he argues that it is both a useful tool for consolidating gains or defeating a rival’s claims, and that China has made law a key domain in which it is seeking to consolidate control over the South China Sea.

In the third article, Elizabeth R. DeSombre turns to non-traditional areas of maritime security through her analysis of ‘The security implications of fisheries’. In it, she argues that fisheries issues can be re-centred as both a cause and effect of security conflicts due to an underlying concern of a depletion of global fish stocks. These issues are explored with four sets of security crises: conflicts over sovereignty of small maritime islands, the rise of Somali maritime piracy, the ‘fish wars’ between otherwise friendly states, and the human insecurity represented by slavery-like conditions aboard some fishing vessels.

Katja Lindskov Jacobsen and Jessica Larsen analyse the way in which studying ‘the maritime’ can offer conceptual insights to the constitutive effects of counter-piracy interventions that may prove relevant to broader debates about governance and security in a changing world order. In their article, ‘Piracy studies coming of age: a window on the making of maritime intervention actors’ they examine three specific themes: regulation (law), structures (institutions) and practices (actors), each of which highlights a distinct sense of contingency, which both characterizes contemporary security governance at sea.

Finally, Barry J. Ryan details the evolution of maritime security from the perspective of its impact on the historical architecture of sea space in his article, ‘The disciplined sea: a history of maritime security and zonation’. It argues that, as the fundamental unit of governance, zoning provides keen insight into the mechanics of maritime security, drawing upon the way in which Britain’s Hovering Acts in the late eighteenth century have shaped the rationale for underlying contemporary maritime security, resulting in a persistence of historical military logics in new formations of security-oriented practices of maritime governance.

We hope this special issue will be of great interest to everyone interested in maritime security.

New article summarises insights from Best Practice Toolkit

What are the challenges in governing maritime security? How can the capacity gap closed through capacity building projects? What guidelines can make such work more effective? These are the questions that the SafeSeas Network explored over the last years, culminating in the SafeSeas Best Practice Toolkit titled “Mastering Maritime Security”.

In a new short article published in the Seychelles Research Journal, Christian Bueger summarises the core insights from the Best Practice Toolkit. The short text revisits some of the findings and recommendations from the toolkit in a short easy ready manner. The article is available as open access.

Maritime Security Ideaslab in Copenhagen

As part of an ongoing collaboration between the University of Sydney and the University of Copenhagen, SafeSeas co-hosted with the Center for Global Criminology an ideaslab on maritime security on the 27th of June 2019. Titled “Insecurity, Crime and Cooperation at Sea”: New Perspectives on Maritime Security” the goal of the day was to explore different ideas from international relations, security studies, and anthropology of how our thinking changes if we initiate inquiry from the sea and not the land. The day provided an opportunity to exchange views on why and how the maritime is a site and a view point from which to explore the social and political differently.

In the background was the observation that the majority of social science disciplines have focused on the land and rather ignored the sea. What has been called “sea blindness”, however, is gradually changing. Increasingly the sea is not taken as an empty void, but understood as a rich space filled with meaning, actions and life. Emerging research challenges the land/sea dichotomy and is interested in connectivity, flows and chokepoints, piracy and other forms of maritime crime, or ports and maritime infrastructures. The six presentations of the day picked up these themes respectively.

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Welcoming our new research associate

SafeSeas is pleased to welcome our new postdoctoral research associate, Scott Edwards. Scott will be joining SafeSeas on our ongoing Transnational Organised Crime At Sea (TOCAS) project funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council, and will be based at the University of Bristol. His primary role be will in assisting in the development of the upcoming evidence base that aims to improve our understanding of maritime crime and international responses to it, as well as assist in the mapping of regional maritime security governance systems.

Scott is in the final stages of his PhD from the University of Birmingham, where he analysed the role of trust in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations security community. In particular, he focused on the mediating impact of trust on the crises that occurred between Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore, with an emphasis on maritime competition and parallel maritime cooperation. In his work Scott has primarily focused on Southeast Asian security issues, both traditional and non-traditional, which has led to various articles and book chapters. He has also produced work for Transparency International in the areas of Southeast Asian defence and security, and for the International Committee of the Red Cross on trust and diplomacy.

Scott recently attended various events with SafeSeas, including the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS) friends of the chair strategy review, Counter-Terrorism Lessons from Maritime Piracy and Narcotics Interdiction at the Royal Danish Defence College, and the SafeSeas co-organised Roundtable on Maritime Crime. Summaries of discussions from these events can be found on our twitter (@Safeseas1).

Scott can be contacted at, or found on twitter @scottedvvards