Beyond Piracy

Piracy has dominated news headlines over the past few years. This is unsurprising when we consider the scale of the challenge faced which reached such a height that the international community felt compelled to intervene

‘Beyond piracy: towards a more holistic maritime security’

Piracy has dominated the maritime news headlines, filled numerous column inches and sparked considerable debate within maritime circles in recent years. This is unsurprising when we consider the scale of the challenge faced, particularly around the Horn of Africa, where incidents of piracy reached such a height in 2007/08 that the international community felt compelled to intervene, including with naval assets in missions such as EU NAVFOR.

In the past year however the number of reported piracy incidents off the Horn of Africa has dropped. This can be attributed principally to a combination of the international naval forces, the presence of armed guards on ships and the utilisation of protective measures such as those captured in BMP4. The piracy problem off the Horn of Africa is by no means solved; a greater and sustained focus on land is required here to ensure that many of the environmental conditions that facilitate piracy – such as state fragility and a lack of economic opportunities – are addressed. Today however international focus is increasingly turning to West Africa and the Gulf of Guinea, where there is an acknowledgement that piracy and armed robbery are proving to be increasingly prominent and problematic.


Piracy will then undoubtedly remain a significant challenge to the maritime community. It remains the maritime security challenge which has the greatest potential to grab media attention, the focus of policy makers and the energies of the private sector; and with this attention comes the financial investment in counter-piracy activities, broadly defined. We must not however allow piracy and maritime security to be regarded as one and the same thing; indeed we must focus on pursuing a more holistic understanding of maritime security.

In an article in New African magazine, Chris Trelawny of the International Maritime Organization, but writing in an independent capacity, makes a very similar point arguing: “Although piracy and armed robbery against ships are important issues, they are largely the symptoms of organised crime, institutional corruption and lack of effective law enforcement ashore. It would be a mistake to focus on countering piracy and armed robbery in isolation – what is needed is comprehensive action to increase maritime security and improve maritime law enforcement in the widest sense” (Trelawny, New African Magazine, March 2013, p. 18).

Trelawny’s emphasis on the interconnections between organised crime, corruption and onshore weaknesses are a reminder that in a globalised world there is no single security challenge and no single ‘silver bullet’ solution. Achieving maritime security is hard – it requires a multi-faceted, multiple stakeholder response, considerable resourcing and plentiful doses of patience. Moreover, once we recognise the challenges posed by Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing, the dumping of toxic waste and the exploitation of the maritime domain for trafficking to name just three additional examples, the maritime security picture becomes even more explicitly complex. Fully recognising this complexity and the need for a more holistic maritime security is the foundation on which any viable response must be built.

It was this desire to move beyond piracy that was the focus of the Third International Conference on Strategic Theory in Dar es Salaam, which took place between 18-20 September. The conference was attended by individuals from across Africa and beyond, including staff from the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation Studies (CPRS), Coventry University. Organised by the Faculty of Military Science, Stellenbosch University and the Royal Danish Defence College; the three day event discussed what lessons could be learnt from the way piracy has been tackled off the Horn of Africa and then looked wider to consider, amongst other things, the impact of maritime insecurity for landlocked states and the nexus between human security and maritime security. CPRS also chaired a workshop which examined how coastal communities can be supported in order to counter the attractions of piracy and maritime crime.

A recurring theme across the conference was the need for further education in relation to maritime security. There remains considerable scope to better understand the dynamics of the maritime domain, to recognise the complexity of the challenges to maritime security, and crucially to ensure the diverse range of stakeholders who are required to work together to build and sustain maritime security are more aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses, with mechanisms in place to transfer knowledge and best practice.

In this vein Coventry University is seeking to make a contribution. Our online MA in Maritime Security, which commences every year in January and for which applications are currently open, provides students with a strategic, holistic and applied look at maritime security issues whilst developing their analytical skills. An MA degree offers students the chance to enhance their knowledgebase and CV, as higher education qualifications are known for their depth and rigorous assessment. We also offer suitably qualified students the chance to gain academic credits for their working experience, formal recognition for their existing knowledge. Our students also have the opportunity to gain an additional continued professional development qualification from the International Association of Maritime Security Professionals (IAMSP), who formally recognise our MA programme. Alongside the MA, in the coming months CPRS will have exciting news about a new maritime security research initiative which will seek to engage with the insights of as broad a range of maritime actors as is possible.

Ultimately it is only through sustained, open interaction, be that through educational programmes or research activities that the security challenges faced can be more fully deconstructed and effective responses developed. After all, no one person or organisation has a monopoly over the knowledge necessary to attain and maintain a more holistic maritime security.

Dr James A. Malcolm is Lecturer in Maritime Security at Coventry University. He can be contacted on:

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