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Policy forum: the future of maritime security

Fecha de la noticias: 07/12/2017 • Publicada: 07/12/2017 

Members of the Seychellois coastguard patrolling the western Indian Ocean

In this new series on the International Affairs Blog we bring together two experts, one academic and one policy practitioner, to answer the same question. In this article the question concerned maritime security:

What is the principle maritime security challenge today?

Academic: Christian Bueger

The rise of the maritime security agenda marks a fundamental shift in thinking about how to govern the sea. Together with its sister concepts of the blue economy, ocean health and blue justice (other areas of new thinking), maritime security implies recognising the complexity of the challenges and opportunities associated with the seas. Neither the pessimism of traditional sea power thinking, which argues that ocean governance requires primarily the projection of power to maintain order at sea, nor the optimism of international maritime law, that challenges can be addressed through better law, provide satisfying solutions. As we have outlined in our recent article in International Affairs, governing and securing the sea today involves working with the cross-jurisdictional, transnational, liminal and inter-agency character of maritime security. Maritime security is a societal effort and needs to be addressed within and across national boundaries.

The top priority today, then, is how to move from sea blindness to effective maritime security governance. It is not a single maritime security issue, such as piracy, that requires attention, but rather how myriad issues can be addressed together in an effective and synergistic manner. We need to identify ways to integrate and coordinate efforts within states, but also between them. This might sound abstract but it is not.

Firstly, policy-makers must raise public awareness of our dependency on the sea. The sea is not out there and far away; it is part of our everyday lives. What happens at sea, hence, should form part of our everyday political debates.

Secondly, moving beyond seablindness involves developing a better knowledge of the sea. Maritime Domain Awareness is one of the catchwords of the maritime security agenda. The underlying vision is to have an understanding of what happens at sea in real time. So far there is a strong focus on technology, surveillance and the promises of the big data revolution. Yet developing such knowledge requires that all users of the sea, including the shipping and leisure industries, actually share information. Above all we must nurture a culture of trust between actors. Academic research also plays an important part in this process; for instance in developing better understandings of the inter-linkages of maritime security issues.

Thirdly, maritime security officials must embrace experimentalism and a willingness to try out new models of governance and coordination. The recent trend of developing national and regional maritime security strategies, as reflected in the strategies of the UK, the EU, the African Union and others, is already a move in the right direction. Rather than developing new institutions, these strategies recognise complexity and aim at integrating the work of existing actors. So far, however, we know little about the success of these strategies, nor if or why some experiments have failed.

Finally, new modes of governance are also required at an international level. None of the existing international organisations have a sufficient mandate to deal with today’s maritime security issues. The International Maritime Organisation, for instance, is primarily active in the regulation of shipping. As such it is an important but limited player, ill equipped to deal with issues such as organised crime at sea. UN Oceans — the main maritime coordination body of the UN — primarily addresses environmental issues, but has hardly dealt with any security challenges so far. The G7 has started to discuss maritime security, but it only represents a very limited club of states. Other informal formats, such as the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia have shown to be successful with coordinating practical responses, but remain limited to single issues, such as Somali-based piracy. An (informal) global body which brings together these diverse actors in order to align interests and coordinate actions, must be developed.

Practitioner: Chronis Kapalidis

New digital technologies are being introduced and applied within the maritime sector at an unprecedented rate. There are already discussions, for example, around the opportunities and challenges the new autonomous era of shipping will pose to the sector. In this context the increasing dependence of the maritime industry on cyberspace, while providing many benefits, exposes the international maritime community to new and as yet uncalculated vulnerabilities. In particular, an increased reliance on algorithms makes effective cybersecurity, throughout the entire maritime sector, an urgent necessity.

Maritime cybersecurity is such a priority because of a fear of the unknown within the maritime industry. This is not to imply that the industry is not aware of the cyber challenge but rather that the threat is evolving so quickly that what form it will take is not generally predictable. Whilst cybersecurity for maritime companies’ shore-based activities or related firms is more or less the same as any other desk-based company, there is a lack of understanding and attention around the vulnerabilities and subsequent consequences that exist for the predominant component of the sector; the ship itself. Contemporary merchant and cruise ships have their Information Technology and Operational Technology systems connected one way or another to cyberspace. Depending on the systems affected by a potential attack, the consequences could vary from loss of revenue to environmental disaster, or even loss of life.

Relevant maritime stakeholders, be those shipping companies, navies, government agencies, maritime security professionals, booking agencies, or insurers, have developed risk mitigation policies and contingency plans for the existing and well-known threats to the maritime sector. Recent discussions held at Chatham House’s International Security Department on the issue of maritime cybersecurity challenges have highlighted that the cyber domain remains uncharted territory for much of the maritime sector. A small number of initiatives have emerged, from the private sector and certain government agencies, which aim to raise awareness and provide guidance. Unfortunately these are often either too technical or too abstract to offer valuable advice, and become applicable to maritime operations, without bridging the gap between IT and shipping staff. This lack of expertise is evident both at the senior level of management and the ship-board personnel as well. With non-IT personnel being the weakest link in terms of cybersecurity breaches, it is of crucial importance for both on-shore and at-sea employees to understand what is at stake.

Although, maritime cybersecurity may not yet be understood as the prevalent threat within the sector, it certainly is the priority challenge. In the event of a serious cyber attack — be it a sensitive data breach or an attack on control or navigation systems -the consequences could be catastrophic. The current threats of piracy, armed robbery, hijacking, human trafficking, and other unlawful activities at sea remain at the forefront of the maritime security field, but may even be exacerbated by the misuse of cyberspace. Stakeholders urgently need to invest time and resources in bringing together their IT and shipping staff to work on creating an effective cyber security strategy, a ‘cyber fence’, for their most valuable asset — the ship.

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