Maritime Security, a Basic Introduction

Maritime Security, what is it?

Many people understand maritime security to be the role of the military to protect our seas and oceans, but this is not always the case. All of us depend on the seas and oceans, not just as an abundant food supply, but safe, secure and clean seas and oceans ensure our prosperity and peace. Air Transportation can be prohibitively expensive or logistically impossible for the movement of some items, so we rely on ships to transport these goods and foodstuffs. Just as in other methods of transportation, criminal organisations look for any security vulnerabilities in the supply chain and seek to exploit them for their own gain. This leads to acts of Piracy, armed robbery, hostage taking and other criminal activities. It is through adequate security that we can maintain the rule of law in areas beyond national jurisdiction and protect strategic maritime interests.

Who Provides Maritime Security?

The seas and oceans are so vast (seas and oceans account for 70% of the earth’s surface), that it is literally impossible for Governments to provide security for the whole area. To patrol, literally, millions of square miles of ocean would take legions of planes and warships to protect it. This is quite clearly impossible to achieve.

The most effective option is to employ the services of what are referred to as Privately Contracted Maritime Security Companies (PMSC’s) who, for a commercial fee, will provide a team of armed guards, usually three, to stay onboard the ship when it is transiting though high risk areas.

Maritime Security in The Past Decade

Maritime terrorism, piracy, armed robbery and kidnapping, was for hundreds of years limited to isolated criminal incidents around the world. The big change for maritime security came with the rise of piracy off the coast of Somalia between 2008 and 2011. What started as an attempt by local fishermen to protect their local fishing rights against foreign commercial fishing operations, over some years developed into well-organised and well-structured criminal gang activities, funded by influential and powerful organisations.

Piracy emerging from Somalia has decayed intensely. In 2012 the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) (part of the International Chamber of Commerce) reported that there were seventy-five attempted and real piracy occurrences in that year by Somali pirates but only fifteen in 2013.

In the past 5 years, the hotbed of maritime criminal activity has shifted from East Africa to West Africa, in particular in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG). In that region there have been many occurrences of criminal activity but with more emphasis on the stealing of property rather than the long-term hostage-taking strategy that was so prevalent in the East African area.

In the South China Sea, criminal activity has been on the increase in the past decade as politically motivated groups seek to take hostages both for financial and political gain.

Maritime Security and the IMO

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is the organisation which is responsible for trying to make trading and travelling on the sea as secure and safe as is possible. For any possible security threats, which jeopardise security, the Organization develops suitable guidance and regulations to lower and manage risks through the Maritime Safety Committee and with contributions from the Legal Committee and Facilitation Committee.

The IMO developed provisions designed to address maritime security matters within the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code, which includes many instructions and forms of guidance for all countries who are part to the Convention. The aim of the ISPS Code is to ensure that the applicable port facilities and ocean-going vessels of IMO Member States are implementing the highest possible standards of security.

The ISPS code is divided into 2 sections, a series of guidelines on how to meet those requirements in a non-mandatory Part B, and detailed security-related requirements for shipping companies, port authorities and Governments, in Part A, which is mandatory.


To counter the tactics used by Somali pirates, a booklet was collectively published by the shipping industry. Called ‘BMP4’, which stands for ‘Best Management Practices’, it suggests three fundamental principles; 1. Register with MSCHOA (Maritime Security Centre – Horn of Africa), 2. Report to UKMTO (United Kingdom Marine Trade Operations), 3. Implement Ship Protection Measures (SPM’s).

These BMP tactics appear to have been extremely effective in deterring and preventing pirate attacks and vessels being targeted who used at least three evasion measures have dependably been able to evade boarding by pirates. Many merchant vessels, however, did not use sufficient evasion measures. In fact, in nearly half of the cases attributed to East African pirates, the vessels did not report using any evasion tactics.

Maritime Security will continue to evolve as the threat itself evolves, and that threat will be determined by regional, political and economic factors.