SafeSeas visits UK’s Joint Maritime Security Centre

SafeSeas’ Scott Edwards and Tim Edmunds visited the UK’s Joint Maritime Security Centre (JMSC) in Portsdown on 6th October 2021. The visit followed the publication of their paper, written with Christian Bueger, in the RUSI Journal. Titled ‘Innovation and New Strategic Choices: Refreshing the UK’s National Strategy for Maritime Security’, the paper analysed the UK’s maritime security architecture at which the JMSC is at the centre.

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.