What Next for Maritime Security?
This month witnessed the first transit of a Russian LNG vessel via the Northern Sea Route (NSR) from Norway to Japan. This kind of vessel, capable of a capacity of 3.1 billion cubic feet of gas or 63 metric tonnes of LNG normally transits via the Atlantic, Mediterranean, across the Indian ocean and up to Asia.
The NSR is normally impassible to tankers, save for four months during the warmest parts of the year. However, the sea ice is thinner, leaving the route open for longer periods during the year, possibly due to the increasingly warmer temperatures of the arctic. The time saved in transiting this shorter route is significant and if proven feasible, could demonstrate the capability of modern ‘ice class’ LNG vessels transiting routes not yet in the domain of traditional maritime control. After all, that far north, it’s normally impassable and if you get into difficulties, there just isn’t the maritime presence to come to your assistance. The opening up of this region in terms of the projection of power through trade is significant and was intense discussion at a recent seminar at Chatham House – “A new era in Maritime Security”, where representatives from academia, the military and shipping industry gathered to debate issues surrounding ‘International Maritime Security’.
Mention the phrase Maritime Security these days and it is usually in the context of counter piracy. How ironic that the governance, peace and security of the oceans has become synonymous with Somali piracy and yet the issue of who rules the waves has existed for centuries. Mindful that, ‘every generation gets the pirate it deserves’, there must be a sense of irony for those that have a vested interest in the maritime domain in that it took the organised criminal activity off the Horn of Africa to expose the weaknesses of recent ‘maritime security’ policy. However as the rivalry between major superpowers surges ahead of Somali piracy, issues surrounding the domination of sea-lanes and claims to vital undersea resources are beginning to fill the narrative.