Delivering Maritime Security after Brexit: time for a joined-up approach

SafeSeas Director Tim Edmunds and research associate Scott Edwards have produced a Policy Report based on the ideas discussed at the recent SafeSea’s event ‘Securing Britain’s Seas‘.

HMS Tyne Makes a Sharp Turn on Exercise with Fishery Protection Squadron by Royal Navy

The UK faces three critical challenges in this area: first, the need to respond effectively to a complex security environment, with important transnational dimensions; second the need to address the current patchiness of capacity amongst different geographic spaces and regions; and finally, the need to address problems of fragmentation and compartmentalisation between the multiple departments and agencies tasked with delivering UK maritime security. These challenges are likely to intensify in consequence of the Brexit process, when key collective EU maritime governance arrangements will either cease to apply or be subject to transformative revision.

The University of Bristol and the SafeSeas network held an IdeasLab on maritime security in Bristol on 28 February 2020 to identify responses and priorities for policy and research. Participants from all major UK maritime security agencies attended, as did academics representing disciplines ranging from international law to security studies. This Policy Report summarises the findings of the IdeasLab and outlines key policy implications for UK government and other maritime stakeholders.

The full report can be found here as a PDF:

Or here as a webpage:

How to improve the delivery of capacity building? Insights from a coordination meeting

How can capacity building training for maritime security be better coordinated in West and Central Africa? This was the core question of a recent meeting – ‘Strategic Dialogue Workshop On West and Central Africa Maritime Security Training Capacity’ – held from 25 – 28 February 2020 in Accra, Ghana. The focus of the gathering was the Gulf of Guinea as this region has become a blue crime hotspot due to the prevalence of criminal activities, such as piracy, illegal fishing, oil bunkering, smuggling of arms and drugs, and human trafficking. These crimes called, according to the organizers of the dialogue, for firm interventions, and building the capacity of actors and partners in this region. This blogpost highlights some of the issues that were discussed during the meeting.  

Crime fighting
The workshop was organized by INTERPOL, UNODC, and the U.S. State Department to serve as a forum to gather and exchange ideas for building and strengthening the capacity of various actors active in the maritime domain in the region. Furthermore, the goal of the workshop was to discover knowledge gaps at partner organizations, to get an overview of the kinds of training programs run by other organizations and to gain more insights into the training needs and priorities of participating organizations/nations. In addition to the delegates from regional states, the meeting was attended by representatives from, among others, the European Union, the U.S. State Department, US Naval Forces Africa, US Africa Command, UNODC, INTERPOL, International Maritime Organization, the EU’s Gulf of Guinea Inter-Regional Network (GoGIN) Project, Regional Centre for Maritime Security of Central Africa, Interregional Coordination Centre (ICC), and the Danish Embassy in Ghana. In their opening remarks the representatives emphasized crime fighting at sea and the development of a legal framework for the entire Gulf of Guinea to enhance prosecutions across the region as a priority; with the Yaoundé Architecture serving as the point of departure for dialogues and collaborations.

According to the INTERPOL, the rise of crimes at sea in the Gulf of Guinea has not only generated interest in the region from international organizations and their partners, but also from criminals and crime syndicates that aim to benefit from the lack of region-wide jurisdiction to combat these crimes. The participants cited cases in which criminals and pirates had been apprehended only for them to go free, due to a lack of solid legal framework for prosecutions or due to tempering with the crime scene. These situations therefore amplified the need for capacity building in investigative areas. In light of this, the INTERPOL and Interregional Coordination Centre (ICC), floated the notion of ‘Capacity Building in the Investigative Area/Crimes’ and ‘Train the Trainer-concept’, which were met with enthusiasm as the mood was that these concepts had the potential to enhance the spread of knowledge and ideas in institutions, thus strengthening the capacity of the local, national and regional partners. While there was a lot of discussions on crime fighting at sea and prosecution, there was no mention of crime prevention. However, the representative of the Danish Embassy pointed out that his country believes in ‘crime prevention on land rather than in crime fighting at sea. We need to know why these crimes happen and what we can do about it.’


During the workshop the lack of coordination of training, lack of overview of training content and participants of courses, and lack of overview of the providers of training, were issues that were raised. The speakers observed that their organizations provided and participated in a wide variety of trainings, but lacked an overview of who had organized or participated in which workshops, trainings and seminars. There was also a lack of overview of the content of the various courses. The observations amplified calls for ‘harmonization’, that is ‘bringing skills and knowledge together,’ which will then result in ‘harmonization of standard operations procedures’, ‘harmonization of course content’, and ‘harmonization’ of training contents, training programs and list of participants.

One major proposal at the event for how to achieve harmonization was the development of a coordination database which details courses on offer, course content, organizer and registered participants. To gain insights into which training programs are on offer, participants suggested ‘Tracking the Training’ – which gives insights into the offered programs and ideally, who participated in them. Tracking is key as it helps to eradicate duplication of training efforts and eliminate the number of people attending the same course more than once. Finally, ‘Tracking the Training’, according to the participants, could record the host of training capabilities of regional centres and national assets.

Organizers and participants agreed that such harmonization processes would lead to better results of training programs. It would also achieve a better overview of attendants leading to the eradication of duplication as there have been instances where one person had attended the same training more than once with different providers. Participants also emphasized the need for harmonizing standard operations procedures through ‘Simulation Trials/Operations’ that provide insights on what works and what does not, so that these can be improved or included in the existing capacity building training material. Moreover, such simulations are practical and have the potential of tapping into and drawing from local resources. By drawing from local resources, the UNODC noted, that the financial burden on donors will be reduced.

In sum, the workshop made some important proposals on how coordination of training activities might be improved. The discussed harmonization measures could indeed be important steps in this regard. Yet, one needs to be cautious about the limits of any coordination attempts insofar as coordination problems are often not primarily technical problems. They might be the outcome of different interpretations, priorities and divergent political interests between providers and receivers of training or between agencies. The AMARIS project will closely follow future coordination activities in Ghana and the region as part of its Work Package 3. As evidence from other regions indicates, increasing transparency on capacity building activities will also be in West and Central Africa a very important step in improving delivery and its efficiency.

Dr. Humphrey Asamoah joins SafeSeas as a project coordinator

It is with great pleasure that SafeSeas welcome our new postdoctoral researcher, Humphrey Asamoah Agyekum. Humphrey will be joining the project ‘AMARIS: Analysing Maritime Insecurity in Ghana’ funded by the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA). The project led by Safeseas, is based at the University of Copenhagen. The project which has three work packages, is a research as well as a capacity building enterprise. With well-established links in Ghanaian security institutions and his deep understanding of security issues in the West African region, Humphrey will be the main focal point for our Ghanaian partners. In this role, he will be coordinating the activities of and liaising with our Ghanaian partners.  

Apart from that, Humphrey as a researcher aims to deepen our understanding of maritime security challenges and maritime security governance along the Gulf of Guinea. Humphrey is passionate about security and security (sector) governance in the West African region; with particular interest in Ghana and Guinea-Bissau. In 2016, he received his PhD in anthropology at the University of Copenhagen with a study on the transformation of the Ghana Armed Forces; evolving from coup makers to an institution that abides by the country’s democratic rules. Humphrey was previously a postdoc at the  University of Amsterdam. He has authored, apart from several scientific journal articles, the book ‘From Bullies to Officers and Gentlemen: How Notions of Professionalism and Civility Transformed the Ghana Armed Forces’.  

Humphrey has extensive fieldwork experience in Guinea-Bissau, Ghana and the United Kingdom. He recently attended the Strategic Dialogue Workshop on West and Central Africa Maritime Security Training Capacity, organized by UNODC, INTERPOL and U.S. Department of State Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs in Accra, Ghana.  

A Moment of Opportunity? Britain and the Maritime Security Challenge

On 28 February 2020, SafeSeas hosted an IdeasLab in Bristol on UK maritime security after Brexit, with the kind support of PolicyBristol, Migration Mobilities Bristol, and the Bristol Global Insecurities Centre. Titled ‘Securing Britain’s Seas’, the goal of the day was to ask how maritime insecurities and blue crimes  impact on UK interests, explore how current governance arrangements work in response to these, and consider how these may be challenged and transformed both by a rapidly changing security environment and the challenges of Brexit.

The IdeasLab provided an opportunity for policymakers, practitioners, and academics from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds, including security studies, law, social policy and politics, to engage with one another. Participants from all major UK maritime security agencies, including high level participation, exchanged views and knowledge with leading academics in order to advance understanding of the UK’s maritime security environment.

HMS Bristol, photo by ‘Random Acts of Language’ licensed under Creative Commons

Panels focused on three core themes of importance for British maritime security. The first covered ‘Threats, risks and opportunities’, chaired by SafeSeas Co-Director Professor Timothy Edmunds, and featured Dan O’Mahoney (Director, Joint Maritime Security Centre), James Driver (Head of Maritime Security and Resilience Division, Department for Transport) and Dr. Sofia Galani (University of Bristol). Discussions revolved around the complexity of maritime security governance in the UK context. This complexity is visible in relation to the diversity of challenges at hand – including the protection of maritime trade routes, the prospect of a terrorist attack at sea, threats to marine critical infrastructure, human trafficking and movement of people, the smuggling of illicit goods, the maintenance of public order at sea, and marine environmental management including fisheries protection – and also to the web of different authorities, departments, agencies and private actors engaged in the UK maritime space.

These challenges are often ‘invisible’ in the sense that the general public and politicians are often less invested in the maritime arena than other areas of public policy. Gaps also exist in the legal framework governing the maritime domain – for example around port management – and more work needs to be done to encourage inter-operability and coordination between agencies. However, the panel also highlighted a moment of opportunity in this area too, with a renewed focus on maritime security issues following the 2019 oil tanker crisis in the Straits of Hormuz, the implications of the Brexit process and the prospect of a new UK Maritime Security Strategy in the near future.

The second panel, chaired by Professor Bridget Anderson (University of Bristol), focused on ‘Boundaries, borders and maritime regions’ and featured Professor Sir Malcolm Evans (University of Bristol), Joe Legg (Maritime desk, Foreign and Commonwealth Office), and Ann Singleton (University of Bristol). The discussion raised interesting questions on what should be considered British seas, and how these boundaries have been, or are being, constructed. Panellists agreed on the fundamentally transnational nature of the UK maritime region, incorporating UK home waters, but also critically important maritime spaces such as the North Sea and Mediterranean as well as overseas territories and the international maritime trade routes.

Above all the panel emphasised the need to manage the UK’s maritime boundaries and borders humanely and with proper regard to safety at sea, particularly in relation to the movement of vulnerable people and migrants. There was also intense discussion over the extent to which security responses are appropriate for such issues and the inter-linkages between maritime security and other areas such as migration policy.

Finally the third panel, chaired by Professor Christian Bueger (University of Copenhagen & SafeSeas co-director), addressed  ‘Governance and coordination’ and featured Caroline Cowan (Fisheries Lead, Scottish Government), and Professor Richard Barnes (University of Hull). The panel and discussion highlighted the need for coordinated and inclusive governance in the maritime domain, and for more work to be done on the inter-connected nature of many maritime security threats and scalable nature of responses across these. The panel also highlighted the potential for localised issues (such as conflicts over fisheries access) to escalate to national or regional level problems (and vice versa).

Hirta (Marine Fisheries Vessel) Arriving Aberdeen Harbour 18/06/2019 by Rab Lawrence license by Creative Commons

Discussions again emphasised the broad and diverse nature of the interest groups engaged in maritime security and the difficulties of ensuring fair and effective governance across these and their various identities and interests. Participants highlighted the importance of Scotland in the UK maritime security picture, with 62 per cent of the UK’s (home) Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) located off the Scottish coast, the remote nature of much of this territory, and the devolved nature of many marine environmental management and policing issues. Moreover, and even within government, there is sometimes a lack of understanding over jurisdictional issues between national and devolved authorities engaged in UK maritime security governance.

Overall, the IdeasLab discussions were extremely rich and productive. They highlighted the complexity of the maritime security challenge, the multiple, diverse and sometimes conflicting nature of security governance in this area and the potentially transformative impact of the UK’s exit from the EU on existing practices, arrangements and relationships.  Insights from the ideaslab will be expanded upon and presented in an upcoming policy brief produced by SafeSeas.

AMARIS: New Research project on maritime security in Ghana

In March 2020 SafeSeas will launch its new research project “AMARIS: Analysing Maritime Insecurity in Ghana”. The project will investigate the manifestations of blue crime in Ghana, the countries maritime security governance system and how it is supported through external capacity building assistance. The project is a collaboration between the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Political Science and three research organisations in Ghana, the Centre for Maritime Law and Security Africa, the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre, and the University of Ghana.

The project is lead by Prof. Christian Bueger and is funded by the Danish International Development Agency DANIDA. The AMARIS project will develop major new insights concerning the intersection of different blue crimes, the challenges of national maritime security governance and the dilemmas posed by external capacity building assistance.

‘Securing Britain’s Seas’ Ideaslab Programme

SafeSeas is pleased to announce the programme for the  forthcoming ‘Securing Britain’s Seas’ event.

The IdeasLab will focus on the challenges of ensuring UK maritime security, drawing on contributions from academics, policy makers and other maritime security stakeholders.

Panel one, chaired by Professor Timothy Edmunds (University of Bristol & SafeSeas, will cover ‘Threats, risks and opportunities’. Position papers will be delivered by Dan O’Mahoney (Director, UK Joint Maritime Operations and Coordination Centre), James Driver (Head of Maritime Security and Resilience Division, Department for Transport) and Dr. Sofia Galani (University of Bristol)

Panel two, chaired by Professor Bridget Anderson (University of Bristol), will focus on ‘Boundaries, borders and maritime regions’ and features position papers from Professor Sir Malcolm Evans (University of Bristol), Commander Des Hirons (Deputy Director, National Maritime Information Centre and Commanding Officer, Maritime Information Exploitation Group), and Ann Singleton (University of Bristol).

Finally, the third panel, chaired by Professor Christian Bueger (University of Copenhagen & SafeSeas), will cover ‘Governance and coordination‘ and features position papers from Caroline Cowan (Fisheries Lead, Scottish Government), Captain Phil Haslam (Director of Operations, Marine Management Organisation), and Professor Richard Barnes (University of Hull).

The full programme can be found here.

Participation is limited. To express interest and register for the event, please contact Dr. Scott Edwards (

Announcement: Upcoming Ideaslab – Securing Britain’s Seas

Safeseas is organising an Ideaslab on ‘Securing Britain’s Seas’ on the 28th February in Bristol.

As a nation of islands, maritime security is of critical importance to the UK.
Maritime security comprises a range of important issues, including fisheries management, the migration of people, the fight against narcotics and people trafficking, marine environmental protection, the protection of critical infrastructure and counterterrorism at sea. Yet, while the UK remains a major naval power, its independent capacities for the management of maritime security in home waters are underdeveloped. UK maritime security also faces a series of new challenges in consequence of the Brexit process.

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From coordination to command: making Thailand’s maritime security governance more efficient?

Safeseas Research Associate Scott Edwards recently had the opportunity to access insights from Thailand’s Maritime Enforcement Command Center (ThaiMECC). Previously the Maritime Enforcement Coordination Centre, the change of name is indicative of a new intended direction for the agency. ThaiMECC provides a new noteworthy example of Maritime Domain Awareness, which the Safeseas Best Practice Toolkit demonstrates is the engine room of maritime security governance.

When it was first established in 1997, ThaiMECC was intended to be a focal point for tackling Thailand’s maritime insecurities – particularly trafficking and illegal fishing. Bringing together the Royal Thai Navy, Fisheries Department, Marine Department, Customs Department, Maritime and Coastal Environment Department, and the Marine Police, the agency sought to make inter-agency coordination more effective through seminars, exercises and information-sharing.

190904-N-NI298-0067 GULF OF THAILAND (Sep. 04, 2019) U.S. Coast Guard Chief Maritime Enforcement Specialist John Daughters works with a Royal Thai Navy sailor during a joint visit, board, search and seizure training drill with the U.S. Navy aboard a training vessel as part of the first ASEAN-U.S. Maritime Exercise (AUMX). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tristin Barth)

The backbone of ThaiMECC (in both its previous and current incarnation) is the Maritime Information Sharing Centre (MISC). MISC not only gathers and collates information from the different agencies’ information platforms, but also has a staff tasked with analysis, evaluation and dissemination in order to increase Maritime Domain Awareness.

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Environmental Crime at Sea: The Forgotten Dimension?

Environmental crime is perhaps the form of crime that receives the least attention in the debates on transnational organised crime. Although the thriving debate on a “green criminology” has gradually aimed at alerting academics and policy makers of the detrimental consequences of crimes ranging from pollution to waste crimes to illegal fishing.

In the maritime security debate, so far, attention has been only paid to illegal fishing as the major type of environmental crime at sea. It is time to start recognising the other types, include the severe impacts of illicit waste trade, which predominantly is carried out via maritime routes, or various kinds of pollution crimes.

Contributing to this awareness raising, Prof. Christian Bueger of SafeSeas recently gave a presentation on environmental crimes at sea at the UNODC Global Maritime Crime Programme’s Legal Expert Meeting held in Mauritius. Contact Prof. Bueger for further details.