Debate on promises of blue criminology

Blue criminology provides an alternative perspective on the sea. It argues that the sea presents a particular environment characterized by fluidity, complexity and legal pluralism, and the complicated land-sea relation. The ocean environment also implies specific forms of harm caused by criminals.

Understanding these conditions and different forms of blue crime is the agenda of blue criminology. Safeseas directors Prof Christian Bueger and Prof Tim Edmunds presented the outline of the agenda of blue criminology at a recent event hosted by the Center for Blue Governance at the University of Portsmouth on 25.11.2020.

What is blue criminology?

Bueger and Edmunds define blue criminology as follows:

“blue criminology is the trans-disciplinary field that studies illicit activities in the maritime domain and its consequences for security, order, the environment and economy. As a field, blue criminology integrates insights from disciplines as diverse as the sociology and anthropology of crime and policing, logistics and infrastructure studies, marine geography, migration studies, security studies, international law, international relations and other disciplines concerned with the ocean and marine environment.”

For Bueger and Edmunds, blue criminology has three major concerns:

“It is firstly interested in the social, economic and political conditions that lead to blue crimes; secondly, with the motivations, organisations and practices of carrying out such crimes, thirdly, with the practical responses to such activities through legal, security, policing, economic or other instruments and the larger political effects of such measures for order.”

Conceptualizing blue crime

Blue crime is the core concept of blue criminology. The concept of blue crime was discussed in detail by Bueger and Edmunds in an article published in Marine Policy in September 2020. Providing a detailed conceptual discussion, they are argue to distinguish crimes according to the harm they cause and how they relate to the sea. Accordingly they argue to distinguish three types:

  1. Crimes against mobility. In this category crime targets what moves at sea and causes harm in the transport, fishing or tourism industry, the infrastructures that they required, but also among other users of the sea. Different expressions of maritime piracy are paradigmatic here, but we also need to consider port security, or marine cyber security.
  2. Criminal flows. In these kinds of crimes the sea is used as a transit space, while the harm is not caused directly at sea, but where populations are most often the target. Different forms of smuggling people and illicit goods are part of this category.
  3. Environmental crimes. This category again differs as here the harm is caused at sea. It is the environment that suffers, and the effects on human populations can be long term or indirect, as when an act of deliberate pollution destroys the habitat of a coastline.

Studying interlinkages

One of the core task of blue criminology is to understand how such crimes interlink, mutually enable each other, thrive under the same conditions, or are committed by the same perpetrators. The point is to develop more holistic analyses of such crimes.

Yet the goal is also to understand how responses to such crimes inter-relate out of an analytical but also practical interest.

Blue criminology brings the considerable degree of fragmentation and complexity of institutional responses to the fore. Overlap and competition between respondents are the consequences. One of the goal of blue criminology is hence to understand these difficulties and identify areas in which better synergies can be achieved.

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