Maritime security: separating fact from hype

  • 29 June 2004

Discussions at the 5th Tri-Annual IMB Conference on Piracy and Maritime Security hosted by ICC's International Maritime Bureau (IMB) challenged the growing hype surrounding an imminent maritime terrorist attack, while acknowledging that it remained a possibility.

Brian Jenkins, a renowned expert on terrorism and security, stated: “Assessing the real risk from maritime terrorism should not confuse threat assessment with vulnerability assessment.” He added that doing so could result in a remote possibility being deemed an imminent threat.

Pottengal Mukundan, director of the IMB, welcomed the announcement by the chiefs of the Indonesian and Malaysian Navies to step up patrols in the Malacca Strait. “We need to see how this will impact the rising number of piracy and armed robbery attacks in this busy international waterway”, he said. The Malacca strait is used by 50,000 ships a year and a substantial amount of the world’s oil shipments travel through this area.

Captain Mukundan made the comments in his role as chairman of the two day IMB conference on piracy and maritime security in Kuala Lumpur. A total of 187 delegates from 34 countries and five international organizations participated in the closed-door sessions.

First Admiral Dato Noor Azman bin Haji Othman of the Royal Malaysian Navy emphasized that it was vital that investigations into piracy incidents be carried out in the coastal villages where the pirates operate. He added that there was a limit to the deterrent effect of law enforcement vessels patrolling a long coastline.

Peter Raes, managing director of TECTO, and John Bainbridge of the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), agreed that in many countries the overwhelming fear of maritime terrorism has resulted in ships’ crews being treated as potential terrorists. If any crew member has an Islamic sounding name or the ship has stowaways on board, a likely response of local authorities is to deny the whole crew permission to go ashore, he said. The same result is likely if, under the ISPS Code, the vessel’s previous ports of call were rated at security level two or higher.

“Crews have a lot to contribute to enhancing maritime security. Instead of seeking their enthusiastic support, the consequences of these measures, are that crew are marginalized by their treatment as potential terrorists”, said Captain Raes. He hoped that in time crew and shipmasters would be treated more as partners in improving security than as threats.

The IMB’s Tri-annual Conference on Piracy and Maritime Security was held in Kuala Lumpur on 29 and 30 June 2004. The invited delegates represented law enforcement, developers of government maritime policy, and commercial shipping interests. The conference, held in collaboration with the Royal Malaysian Police, examined the current status of piracy, armed attacks, maritime security and the difficulties and solutions in responding to these specific types of crime.