Maritime Security

Maritime Security: Ensuring Safety of Oceans


The oceans play a vital role in world trade and transportation. Around 90% of global trade is carried out via sea routes. However, with increased human activities at sea, maritime security has become an important concern. Ensuring safety of shipping lanes and combating threats like piracy, terrorism and other unlawful acts has become a global priority.

Threats to Maritime Security

Piracy remains a major threat: Piracy has severely impacted trade in some regions of the world. The waters near Somalia witnessed alarming increase in piracy attacks in the past. Though anti-piracy operations have reduced such incidents significantly, the threat of piracy still lingers in some parts. Other hotspots include waters off West Africa, Southeast Asia etc. Piracy involves hijacking of ships for ransom and poses risk to life.

Terrorism at sea: With rise of terrorism globally, maritime domain is also at risk of being targeted. Terror groups can hijack ships and use them as floating bombs. They can also disrupt important sea-lanes as part of their activities. While no large-scale terrorist attack has occurred till date, security agencies warn that maritime terrorism should not be underestimated.

Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing: IUU or illegal and unauthorized fishing depletes fish stock and damages marine ecology. It also undercuts livelihood of local fishing communities. IUU needs to be curbed through effective monitoring and by creating awareness.

Arms and drug smuggling: Sea routes are also used for illegal transfer of arms, ammunition and trafficking of narcotics across borders. This destabilizes regimes and fuels unrest. Maritime forces play a key role in intercepting such shipments.

Maritime Law Enforcement

Strengthening navies: Most countries have been bolstering their naval capabilities to ensure safety in their maritime zones. India too is rapidly enhancing its naval power through induction of new aircraft carriers, submarines, fighter aircraft etc. This is important to protect maritime borders and trade in the Indo-Pacific.

Coast guard: Apart from navy, coast guards have an important role to play in overall maritime security umbrella. India’s coast guard too has expanded in recent years and inducted new vessels and helicopters. Their duties range from anti-piracy to search and rescue operations.

International cooperation: No nation can independently tackle threats in vast oceanic expanses. Hence global cooperation is essential. Initiatives like Combined Maritime Forces, Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy, etc promote joint patrolling, information sharing and capacity building.

Surveillance and Domain Awareness: For effective monitoring, maritime reconnaissance aircraft/drones, satellite imagery, long-range radars and sensors are being increasingly used. Data received is analyzed using big data tools to track suspicious ships and boats in real time. India’s coastal radar chain is also being densified under various projects.

Maritime Laws and Jurisdictions

UN Convention on Law of Sea (UNCLOS): UNCLOS is the international treaty governing use of world’s oceans. It lays down principles like countries’ rights on territorial waters, exclusive economic zones, continental shelves, transit passage through strategic chokepoints etc. Most nations are UNCLOS signatories.

Flags of convenience: Some countries register foreign ships under their flags for commercial gains even when ships have no physical presence there. This is exploited at times for illegal activities due to poor law enforcement under such flags. Guidelines aim to counter this loophole.

Port/Flag state controls: Port states can inspect ships calling on their harbors for safety, pollution and labor standards. Flag states are responsible for ship and crew as per regulations. Both work in tandem to ensure maritime order.

Judicial mechanisms: Where crimes occur on high seas or EEZs, special tribunals are set up under UNCLOS or UN agreements to investigate and prosecute perpetrators. Regional bodies like ReCAAP also help nations cooperate in investigations and legal procedures.

Maritime Security is a diverse and complex subject involving multiple stakeholders and factors. With evolving threats, it will remain an area needing continuous reforms, cooperative mechanisms and capacity building efforts to maintain safety and rule of law at oceans. Only then can the potential of Blue Economy be fully realized.

1.  Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it