Seas of Change

This quarterly column for MSR will examine current events and possible changes which are likely to have an impact on the maritime security environment and all of us associated with it. In this first edition of the magazine I want to just touch on some of the topics that I think will drive maritime security in the short, medium and longer term.
Around 90% of the world’s trade moves by sea and this volume is increasing, the growing population and the increase of the middle classes in China, India, Brazil and Russia is placing added strain on rapidly diminishing natural resources. As the quantity of trade rises the importance of the global sea trade choke points (Suez Canal, Panama Canal, Malacca Straits, Straits of Hormuz, Gibraltar Straits, Bosporus, English Channel etc) becomes even greater.
The “just enough, just in time” supply chain leaves us critically exposed to any delay (the UK has 5-7 day’s reserves of gas & oil and 5 day’s reserves of food – it takes around 20 additional days for a ship to re-route via the Cape of Good Hope); the closing of the Suez Canal would result almost instantaneously in chronic shortages in the UK and Europe.
Despite the recession and financial crisis the cruiseliner industry continues to grow as it becomes a more affordable way to holiday for many; one of the largest firms has approximately 250,000 passengers and crew embarked around the globe at any one time throughout the year. The super-yacht chartering business is becoming more buoyant and the demand for exotic unexplored ports or picturesque peaceful anchorages is pushing the cruise liners and super yachts to the edge of the security envelope and exposing passengers to a greater diversity of threats and risks.
The unrelenting thirst for oil and gas pushes the offshore industry into evermore technically challenging and hostile areas to extract the products that define the Western way of life.
As the value of cargoes climb, the safeguarding of the 6,500 large ports across the world becomes a vital link in the passage of free trade.
Western governments’ lack of resolve to control counter-piracy has highlighted the ease with which a significant ship can be hijacked and this will not have been missed by terrorist groups. The increase in maritime domain exploitation by these terrorists is difficult to determine, but the ease with which the raiding party attacked Mumbai from the sea is clear for all to see. If there is a high intensity end of maritime security, counter terrorism must be it.
Against this worrying backdrop the navies of the Western world are being reduced in size as national defence budgets’ are tightened. Security at sea doesn’t happen without significant resources, active participation and engagement by all interested parties. These are conflicting challenges which will be explored in future issues. It is clear that there are new opportunities for the maritime security industry to fill the space left by the ebbing navies but how will this materialise and how long will it take? Of one thing we can be sure; “seas of change” are ahead.

Peter Cook interviewed by John Snow on ITN Channel 4 News

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