Charting the future of port and maritime security

maritime security

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With an increasing interconnectedness of global transportation networks and a reliance on digital systems, port and maritime security has become a critical component of the global economy, writes Philip Ingram MBE.

The last two years have seen the return of conflict that has had a major impact on maritime security and a global impact on food prices, highlighting the importance of our maritime environment.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative was a deal brokered by Turkey and the UN in July 2022 to enable Ukraine to export grain by sea despite the war and help ease a global food crisis.

Russia refused to renew it in July 2023, citing a failure to live up to the requirement to help facilitate Russia’s own exports of food and fertiliser and, subsequently, threatened shipping heading for Ukrainian ports – and started targeting port infrastructure with missiles.

Whilst, in security terms, this could be seen as an anomaly, major conflicts are not as unusual as people think and diplomatic disagreements and wildernesses have led to increased opportunities for piracy in recent years.

We all experienced the rise in global food prices when the Ukraine conflict started, as Ukraine was one of the world’s food baskets, responsible for 10% of global supplies of some crops; it was also a major supplier of cooking oil.

The impact of losing a maritime export capability is significant but comes at the same time Iran continues to threaten tankers transiting through the Straits of Hormuz.

In July 2023, AP reported: “Iran tried to seize two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, opening fire on one of them […] the US Navy says Iran has seized at least five commercial vessels in the last two years and has harassed more than a dozen others.” 20% of the world’s oil transits through the Straits of Hormuz.

In addition to these threats, the maritime domain faces a range of security risks and threats that require effective measures for protection.

These risks include illegal activities such as piracy, smuggling and trafficking as well as environmental hazards and potential security impacts of natural or man-made disasters.

To combat these risks, maritime security agencies focus on areas such as vessel traffic management, advanced navigation systems, emergency response and employee safety.

Ports have a slightly different threat profile, ranging from traditional criminal activities to emerging risks associated with terrorism and cyber-crime.

Drug trafficking and smuggling are among the most prevalent challenges faced by ports worldwide.

Criminal organisations take advantage of the complex nature of international trade to transport illegal drugs and contraband across borders. These activities not only pose a threat to public health and safety, but fuel organised crime and corruption.

In recent years, the threat of terrorism has added a new dimension to port security.

Terrorist groups recognise the potential impact of disrupting global trade and are actively seeking ways to exploit vulnerabilities in port security systems.

The fear of a terrorist attack targeting a port has prompted governments to enhance measures and collaborate on intelligence sharing to detect and prevent potential threats.

Furthermore, the digital era has introduced a new set of risks to port security.

Cyber-attacks on port infrastructure and systems can have severe consequences, including disruptions to port operations, data breaches and financial losses.

Ports must invest in robust cybersecurity measures to protect critical infrastructure from cyber-threats and ensure the continuity of operations.

Recognising the global nature of port security, international organisations and governments have established regulations and initiatives to enhance security measures and promote collaboration among countries.

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has played a crucial role in setting standards for port security through the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code.

The ISPS Code provides a framework for conducting risk assessments, implementing measures and establishing plans for ports and ships.

In addition to the IMO, organisations such as the World Customs Organisation (WCO) and the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) work towards combatting illicit activities in ports and promoting information sharing among member states.

Regional initiatives, such as the Container Security Initiative (CSI) and the European Union’s Port Security Directive, aim to strengthen security measures at specific ports and harmonise security standards across regions. Collaboration and cooperation among countries is essential for effective port security.

A smart future?

Getting back to sea, another area of technological development is that of smart shipping.

Smart shipping is revolutionising the maritime industry by integrating technologies to enhance operational efficiency and safety.

Modern ships are equipped with data-driven services that enable accurate weather monitoring, better decision-making and compliance.

This integration of technology allows for unmanned navigation, reducing risks associated with human error and improving safety.

Smart shipping also contributes to maritime security by providing advanced technology for hazard detection, communication with officials and combatting potential threats.

However, as has been seen in the Black Sea, modern technologies utilising satellite navigation and AI can be spoofed.

GPS spoofing of ship locations is not unusual, so there needs to be a lot more work before smart shipping can become a safe and reliable element of mainstream maritime activity.

In saying that, looking only a few years ahead, autonomous technologies are poised to reshape the sector, offering opportunities for crewless vessels and unmanned operations.

Small-scale autonomous vessels are already in use for ocean science, naval operations, surveying and exploration.

We are seeing their increased use in Ukraine’s fight against Russia, but that technology is likely to be exploited by terrorists.

Major initiatives aim to develop all-electric and autonomous container ships, leading to increased efficiency and reduced environmental impact.

However, the integration of autonomous systems into existing force structures and vessels poses challenges.

We can’t forget that container shipping company A.P. Moller-Maersk says the NotPetya cyber-attack in 2017, that disrupted its operations, came with a hefty price tag of as much as $300m in lost revenue.

The future will also see the transformation of ships into TechnoMax Ships, which are data-driven, greener and fully connected onboard – but, currently, these would be extremely vulnerable unless cyber is taken more seriously.

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