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Maritime Security Should Not Be Ignored

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By Dr. Joe DiRenzo III
Professor, Graduate Intelligence Studies at American Military University

The world maritime transportation system (MTS) plays an important role for the national economy. The security of this system–which includes ports, the littorals, and the nation’s Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ) into the world’s global maritime commons–is absolutely critical.  The important thing to keep in mind is that this “layered” framework, which starts at the pier and works its’ way out to global maritime commons presents unique risks and vulnerabilities that need to be considered as does the authorities and jurisdictions that might apply.

There are components within the MTS that present unique challenges. Writing in the 2013 Naval War College Review, Vice President of Maritime Services at Maersk Line Limited Stephen Carmel noted that maritime “trade is moved in network of networks that are themselves interconnected and completely dependent on the smooth flow of information across yet another network.” Continued Carmel, who is a member of the Chief of Naval Operations executive panel, “Disruption in port propagates out into disruptions into other ports. Ports themselves are not perfect substitutes for each other, owning to advances in ship technology, with attendant implications for resilience.”

So what are the issues involving the MTS that should be considered? From my perspective I believe three areas need continued scrutiny.

Maritime Domain Awareness

Legendary baseball all-star Yogi Berra was fond of saying, “you don’t know what you don’t know”. This is also true for maritime domain awareness (MDA). The security of the MTS is made much stronger by understanding what vessels are where within the system.

The Coast Guard has made significant progress in MDA through the Nationwide Automatic Identification System (NAIS) which enhances maritime domain awareness with a focus on improving security, navigational safety, search and rescue, and environmental protection services. NAIS is based on the Automatic Identification System (AIS), a technology sanctioned by the International Maritime Organization as a global standard for ship-to-ship, ship-to-shore, and shore-to-ship communications. NAIS uses digital VHF wave forms to continually transmit and receive voiceless data. Significant advances have been made, but much more work needs to be done.

Maritime security by U.S. Coast Guard
The U.S. Coast Guard remains vital to maritime security.

The Continued Threat of Non-State Actors

The international community, including China, has committed real assets to addressing the piracy issue, which with time has decreased. However the eastern coast of Africa, especially off Somalia, continues to present a challenge to a secure MTS. At any one time you can see the current piracy incidents reported to the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre during 2013.

The Challenge Presented By Small Vessels

The U.S. has released a small vessel strategy. Since the strategy release, the Department of Homeland Security has executed a Small Vessel Security Strategy (SVSS) implementation plan which is designed to manage risks associated with the potential exploitation of small vessels.

“The Implementation Plan encompasses the program elements that, when combined and tailored to local security requirements, will best meet the objectives and goals of the Small Vessel Security Strategy without imposing excessive limits or costs on our maritime community.”  DHS added, “The program elements form a layered, ’defense-in-depth’” approach to small vessel security designed to thwart adversaries by raising the likelihood of detection through an array of operational techniques. They consist of ongoing activities that support the goals of the Small Vessel Security Strategy, and potential initiatives and areas of research and development, which aim to improve relevant strategic and operational capabilities.”

These three areas need to be the focus of change within the MTS.

Maritime Security remains a subject of critical importance which needs constant academic scrutiny. We must consider and be prepared for a maritime “black swan,” an event of low probability but very high impact and consequence.


About the Author:
Dr. Joe DiRenzo III is a Professor in the Graduate Intelligence Studies program at American Military University. A retired Coast Guard officer who had afloat command he is the 2010 School of Security and Global Studies Excellence In Teaching and Learning Award winner he has been widely published on maritime security issues.

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