SafeSeas researchers comment on Beirut explosion

In the afternoon of August 4th, a major explosion in the port of Beirut killed over 100 people and left thousands wounded. Given the importance of the port for Lebanon’s economy, the consequences will be felt for years.

SafeSeas researcher Christian Bueger and Scott Edwards have written a series of commentaries as well as gave interviews to the international media. The comments aim at contextualising the disaster and analysing its consequences for global trade and port management. They particular highlight the link to abandoned ships and containers, as well as the broader challenges posed by the trade in hazardous materials.

The first comment was published by The Conversation, the day after the disaster. Read the piece titled “Beirut explosion: the disaster was exceptional but events leading up to it were not – researchers.” We argue to interpret the event in the light of the broader problem of abandoned ships and container.

The second comment focuses on Africa. Recognising that African ports are particularly vulnerable, we argue for dedicated capacity building work to address the handling of hazardous material and waste crimes. The article titled “African ports need to learn the lessons of Beirut” was published by African Business Magazine on August 6th.

A third comment published with The Diplomat on August 7th, investigates the consequences for Southeast Asia, arguing that ports in the region have struggled in the past and now need to step up there game. Read “The Beirut Disaster Is a Wake-up Call for Southeast Asia. The devastating explosion in Beirut reminds us how vulnerable Southeast Asian ports might be.

TOCAS Q&A with Partnership for Conflict, Crime & Security Research

In mid-June, the TOCAS team, Professor Christian Bueger, Dr Scott Edwards, and Professor Tim Edmunds, sat down for a Q&A discussion to share their work on transnational organised crime at sea with the Partnership for Conflict, Crime & Security Research (PaCCS).

PaCCS was created in order to respond to the challenge of addressing threats to security through a research community, and presently focuses on the core areas of conflict, cybersecurity, and transnational organised crime. TOCAS has received funding through the Transnational organised crime: Deepening and broadening our understanding 2018 call from PaCCS and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

The transcript of Q&A can be found at: .

A video can also be found at:

Part 1:

Part 2:

The Q&A focused on the work that the TOCAS team is currently undertaking to better understand blue crime and the responses to it, and addressed questions such as why should we pay more attention to #crime at sea? How is the #covid19 pandemic transforming blue crime?

What We Know About Corruption in the Maritime Sector

In the summer of 2019, I began to think about what we know about corruption in the maritime sector. My first impulse was to be found in popular culture. The second season of The Wire takes point of departure in a port. The series delves into criminal networks and the ways in which they make use of ports in their businesses. As such, it reified my pre-dispositioned ideas and notions of the port site transformed into a concrete political and material reality of crime, murder and drugs, as well as of legalities, jurisdictions and exercises of authority. Somehow this brings together many of the practices and themes that initially attracted my attention to the field. It is also similar to the many Hong Kong thrillers that have the city harbour as the background of deceptions and corruption, such as Internal Affairs and Port of Call, to name a few.

With this in mind, in collaboration with a research librarian at my workplace at the time, I tried to undertake a proper search in relevant journal databases. However, the result was quite meagre and surprisingly unfulfilling. Very few articles combined the words corruption and ports or shipping, and it was not easy to identify a core group of researchers or studies. This somewhat echoed the results of a recent study of Damvad consulting company commissioned by Danish Shipping, which showed that research on maritime politics and legal affairs is promising but low in volume, compared to other 13 identified research fields, and dominated by engineering-oriented studies. It is also surprising considering the vast literature on corruption in state institutions on a global scale. For example, the Global Anticorruption Blog has collected more than 6000 articles on corruption related issues. Yet, a simple search shows that of the words; port, maritime, ship, shipping or ocean, only ports are mentioned three times in connection with the same author. While, it is not a strict scientific investigation or literature search, it still indicates that research and published studies on corruption in the maritime sector appears to be wanting, and perhaps even understudied. One could say, it is a blue ocean ready to be discovered – to use a tacky and inelegant metaphor.

However, we should not equate the lack of research and studies with a lack of understanding or information about corruption in the maritime sector, as a whole. Many of us have a childish fascination with ports and harbours, ships and seafarers, and the entanglements of cultures, legal systems and flows of people and resources, be they trade or criminality, which is also reflected in popular culture, as mentioned earlier. Furthermore, at the World Maritime University, they have developed a seminar course in corruption in the maritime industry for coming and current port managers and other related authorities, from all over the world. And if, you have the opportunity to talk to people working at ports in different contexts, it would not be unexpected that the conversation would centre in on issues of corrupt behaviours, including port authorities, agents, seafarers and criminal networks. A prominent and well described example is the garbage dumping in the ocean by the Italian mafia, which involved corrupt behaviours at many scales and sites, including the ports, up through the bureaucracy, to the political level. 1

Furthermore, for the shipping industry corruption at ports have been a reality for decades, which has not just negatively affected the business but also, and perhaps more importantly, put the seafarers at risk of arrest, detention and imprisonment, as well as, violence and extortion. As a result, the Maritime Anti -Corruption Network was established in 2011, to document corrupt acts and attempts of corrupt acts in the ships’ encounters with port authorities, and to support seafarers and assist the industry to reduce and prevent corruption. A key activity of the organization is to collect documentary evidence for incidents of corruption. They have established an anonymous reporting system that is publicly available and accessible to the seafarers. To date, the organization has collected more than 30.000, so-called incident reports on a global scale. This work is an important source and entry point to understand corruption at ports, including the contextual variances and similarities in the encounters between seafarers and authorities. It provides a background for in-depth and situated research on corrupt behaviours and dynamics, and their interlinkages to the wider politics (and economic interest) of governance and rule of law, nationally and internationally.

Despite the lack of empirical work on corruption in the maritime sector, broadly speaking, I would like to highlight one particularly interesting research on the issue, which could serve as a form of inspiration for what can be done in the future to address the lack of empirical and contextual knowledge. The article by Sequeira and Djankov investigates how corruption affects firm behaviours in the choice of port calls of South Africa or Mozambique. 2

The strength of the article is in its empirical work of a random sample of 120 South African firms and a random sample of 1,300 imports going through both ports. In addition, they also tracked land cross border activities including additional 50 cases. The data on corrupt behaviours relied on detailed and structured observations by clearing agents, involved in the processing of cargo at the ports and at the border.  The take away from this study, I think, is the intention to explore and understand corrupt acts in context through the perspectives of the informed and involved actors e.g. firms and agents, and holistically link the sea, the port and land through transportation, law and regulations, and the exercises of authority, even across borders.

The study illustrates ways in which we can study corruption in ports and how it facilitates maritime crimes, on a wider scale, affecting not just the shipping businesses and maritime sector but also illustrates how authority is exercised and rule of law practiced on a societal and state level.  Thus, potentially affecting the economy of the industry, the safety of the seafarers, transnational organized crime and other illegal activities, such as smuggling of people and drugs, piracy and terrorism. In essence, it shows how the capacity of governance on land is directly linked to the implementation and enforcement of maritime orders including seafarers’ safety, when exposed to corrupt environments.

Hence, what we know about corruption in the maritime sector is yet to be properly explored and systematically described in order to develop a consistent and adequate knowledge base, that can form the foundation for relevant policy developments, and practical and educational actions, as well as, encourage further minutiae and comprehensive research.

In short, we need research, particularly empirically and contextually situated studies, on a range of pertinent issues, such as, a) interactions between port authorities and seafarers during port calls, b) the role of clearing agents and other brokers in the processing of cargo, c) the institutional and legal conditions of port authorities practices, especially in highly politicised systems, d) the implementation of international legal orders and regulations in the practices of authority at ports e.g. ISPS, and, e) the role of transnational and international crime and criminal networks on port authority practices.

The above list is off course not exhaustive of the topics and themes that could form the initial research interventions in the near future. However, they are key to understand the ways in which ports work and how they connect to national and international dynamics and developments of security, crime and global orders e.g. human rights, SDGs and connectivity and infrastructural strategies, efforts and investments. All of which play into the creation and expansion of a research field on ocean orders and maritime crimes.

For a PDF of this commentary, please click here

Pragmatic spaces and the maritime security agenda

The oceans are increasingly understood as a security space. Does the new maritime security agenda lead to new spatial configurations? This chapter introduces the concept of ‘pragmatic spaces’ to explore spatial configurations produced in responses to maritime security. Four exemplary spaces are discussed: how counter-piracy led to the development of high risk areas, how maritime security capacity building produced new regions constructed through codes of conduct, how the identification of smuggling routes established new forms of international partnerships, and how maritime domain awareness systems advance new transnational spaces of surveillance. These new spatial configurations were introduced to manage maritime security issues and enable transnational forms of governance. 

Read the working paper here

Welcoming to the SafeSeas family is a platform that has published commentaries on contemporary maritime piracy and maritime security from 2010 to 2017. In these years over 80 blog posts were published from authors around the world. These widely read commentaries addressed recent developments on piracy and the global response to it, as well as questions of maritime security strategy, blue economy and blue justice, but also documented the results of events and conferences. also published a regularly updated bibliography on contemporary piracy.

With closed for submission, the SafeSeas network is taking over the archive of the platform. While URLs will remain stable to ensure access, SafeSeas is republishing these posts in its archive.

In the coming months we will re-publish a series of the best blogs from

The same time, we also want to continue the spirit of, that is, to offer a platform for maritime security researchers to make research accessible to a wide international audience and to publish commentaries on research outcomes, current policy developments or recent maritime security related events.

We invite contributions of a length of 500-800 words. Please contact Scott Edwards for submissions.

Blue Crime: Conceptualising Transnational Organised Crime at Sea.

Transnational organised crime at sea is a growing international concern. However, and despite its importance, the concept remains uncertain and contested. Debate continues over the term itself, what illicit activities it incorporates and excludes, and how these can be meaningfully conceptualised in ways that that both recognise the diverse nature of the concept yet also provide a basis for an integrated response to the challenges it presents. In this paper, we provide a systemic conceptualisation by proposing the concept of blue crime as a framework. Our goal is to provide a firm basis for future enquiries on the different types of blue crime, to trace their distinct characteristics and identify how they intersect, and to consider what kinds of synergies can be built to respond to them.

Read the Working Paper here.

AMARIS project holds kick-off event

On 25 June 2020, the ‘Addressing Maritime Insecurity in Ghana (AMARIS)’ project held its ‘Kick-Off Event’. AMARIS is a two and a half year initiative funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, administered by the DANIDA Fellowship Centre and based at the Department of Political Science, University of Copenhagen. AMARIS started in March 2020 and the ‘Kick-Off Event’ marked the end of its inception phase and the launch of the fieldwork phase. The main purpose of the kick-off event was to agree on the joint research strategy for all four partner institutions, to discuss innovative data collection methods in light of the current Covid situation, but also how to generate new theoretical insights. 

Paradigmatic case

AMARIS studies maritime insecurity and the responses to it in Ghana. The country is seen as a paradigmatic case that stands for the significant challenges linked to maritime security. Blue crimes, such as piracy, armed robbery at sea, or illegal fishing and waste dumping affect the country’s economy negatively. There are also issues linked to port security, smuggling and stowaways. The AMARIS project through its four work packages aims to conduct a theory-driven and in-depth study of maritime (in)security in Ghana. The project investigates the manifestations of maritime crime in the country (work package 1, led by the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Center (KAIPTC)), the governance responses to maritime (in)security that have developed in the past twenty years (work package 2, led by the Center for Maritime Security and Law in Africa (CEMLAWS)), and the capacity building assistance that is carried out in the country by international partners (work package 3, led by the University of Copenhagen in collaboration with the University of Ghana). Together, the four work packages will make a substantial contribution to better tackle maritime security challenges in Ghana, the Gulf of Guinea and elsewhere.

Best practices

AMARIS is the first project that studies the maritime security challenges of a country in the Global South in such depth. A lot can be learned from this case study. The research will reveal best practices that can be shared with others, but also outlines the tensions and challenges that persist in this arena. In addition to carrying out research, part of AMARIS is also the organization of a pilot training school that has the ambition to shape a future generation of maritime security analysts in the region.

Blue Crime: Conceptualising transnational organised crime at sea

SafeSeas Directors Christian Bueger and Tim Edmunds have released a new working paper ‘Blue Crime: Conceptualising transnational organised crime at sea’. A pre-print of an article accepted at Marine Policy, the paper proposes the concept of blue crime and provides a systematic conceptualisation of the term as well as a typology.

Click here for the working paper

Transnational organised crime at sea has only recently been recognised as a major security issue that requires political attention. Crimes such as maritime piracy, the illicit trafficking of people, narcotics, arms or waste by the sea, and environmental crimes such as illegal fishing or pollution are increasingly important dimensions of ocean governance and the associated maritime security and law enforcement agenda. Such crimes have different expressions across the world’s maritime regions and affect human lives, political stability and economic interests in different ways, ranging from their impact on coastal communities to international shipping and even national security.

There are significant debates and uncertainties, however, around the current usage of the term. These centre around the meaning, scope and reach of the concept including, what illicit activities it comprises, and how these can be meaningfully structured in ways that that both recognise the diverse nature of maritime crime yet also provide a basis for an integrated response to it.

The article addresses these uncertainties and contestations and develops a systematic categorisation of ‘blue crime’. Through this categorisation, the article identifies three core groups of blue crime: crimes against mobility, criminal flows, and environmental crimes.

Each crime entails a different relationship with the maritime space and produces differing pathologies of effect.

As such, the article addresses the debate that continues around the term transnational organised crime at sea and provides a new framework of ‘blue crimes’ for navigating this complex issue for practitioners and analysts alike. It achieves this by tracing the distinct characteristics of different blue crimes and identifying how they intersect through the skills and capacities required to carry them out, the spaces in which they take place, and the facilitating crimes related to them. Through this, the article considers what kinds of synergies can be built to respond to them.

Specifically, it highlights three consequences: First, it is clear that some forms of maritime crime are significantly better documented than others. Second, the paper implies that more work needs to be done to understand the ways in which different actors and organisations involved in the fight against maritime crime share information between each other, and more widely. Finally, it points to the importance of the governance and organisation of joined up responses to blue crimes, including capacity building as the international and regional governance systems are fragmented and lack integration.

Event on Gulf of Guinea situation

What is the current state of maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea? What are the consequences of Covid? These were two central questions of an event organised by CEMLAWS, partner of the SafeSeas network and core contributor to the new AMARIS project. Christian Bueger participated in the event on Monday the 8th as one of the panelists.

GULF OF GUINEA OCEANS GOVERNANCE DIALOGUE: Covid-Piracy, Coastal Communities, Needed Responses

GULF OF GUINEA OCEANS GOVERNANCE DIALOGUE: Covid-Piracy, Coastal Communities, Needed Responses

Gepostet von Centre For Maritime Law And Security Africa – CEMLAWS Africa am Montag, 8. Juni 2020

As current number indicate pirates are increasingly widening their operational terrain in the region, attacking more frequently in the Gulf of Guinea countries, and going further out to sea. The same time capacity building efforts are progressing well. Yet there are worries that Covid leads to less resource committments both within and from outside the region. Participants hence called for more innovative thinking making the best out of the current situation. Bueger in particular stressed the importance of considering how community policing at sea can provide new directions in law enforcement and maritime domain awareness.

Webinar information: ‘Do we have the right data for fighting maritime piracy?’

SafeSeas will hold a webinar event held on the 9th of June, 15.00 BST, in collaboration with Stable Seas, to accompany the release of our new report ‘What we know about piracy’.

Click here for the full report

The speakers are:

Ms. Lydelle Joubert, Stable Seas
Mr. Cyrus Mody, IMB Piracy Reporting Centre, ICC
Ms. Siri Bjune, Global Maritime Crime Programme, UNODC
Mr. Jacob Larsen, BIMCO
Dr. Ursula Daxecker, University of Amsterdam


Piracy attacks continue to be rampant and threaten the shipping industry. In the Gulf of Guinea and other regions attacks continue despite substantial international efforts and self-protective measures. Good policies and effective responses depend on solid data. The right data allows us to identify patterns and criminal networks, target interventions better and provides clues about what deterrence measures work. It is also important to raise awareness and draw political attention to the problem.

Piracy data has been systematically collected since the 1980s, initially by the International Maritime Bureau and International Maritime Organization. Since the 2000s the number of actors collecting data on piracy has increased. Regional organizations and maritime domain awareness programmes collect data for particular regions, or to support military missions.

Over the years different definitions of what should count as piracy and what information should be included (e.g. degree of violence) in such reports have developed. Data collection is increasingly fragmented, and reports come to different conclusions on trends. 

This not only raises the question of whether and how such data could be harmonized, but also whether the data collected meets the needs of all users. Are law enforcement agencies, the shipping industry, security analysts as well as the general public getting the right information and picture?

The recent report by Stable Seas / SafeSeas ‘What we know about piracy’ provides a systematic overview of how data on piracy is collected. In this webinar, the report’s author, Lydelle Joubert, will highlight insights from the research with commentary from leading stakeholders and experts.

The discussion will be chaired by Christian Bueger, Co-Director of SafeSeas and professor at the University of Copenhagen.