Tag Archives: Maritime Terrorism

Terrorists on the Ocean: Sea Monsters in the 21st Century

By CAPT Robert N. Hein, USN

The call of the ocean has enticed generations to explore, and at times exploit her domain. Ninety percent of world commerce transits the oceans. Cruise ships represent a $40 Billion industry, and 30% of the world’s oil originates offshore. It is no wonder criminals and terrorists also feel drawn to the sea. As these groups expand their reach, the question is: When will ISIS and other terrorist organizations bring their brand of mayhem to the oceans?

A senior NATO Admiral, VADM Clive Johnstone, recently expressed concern that ISIS desired its own maritime force to spread its nefarious activities into the Mediterranean. These activities could include launching attacks against a cruise liner, oil terminal, or container ship. Soon after VADM Johnstone’s comments, Former Supreme Allied Commander and retired Admiral James Stavridis weighed in with his own concerns about ISIS entering the maritime domain: “I’m surprised [Islamic State militants] have not, as yet, moved into the maritime world and gone after cruise ships, which I think are a logical and lucrative target for them.”

While ISIS’ maritime capabilities have been limited to date, this has not been true of all terrorist organizations. ISIS’ predecessor, Al Qaeda, launched a vicious and successful attack against the USS COLE in October 2000. Somali pirates experienced tremendous success at sea for years, but strong responses from the international community and force protection measures by the maritime industry have limited further successful attacks. ISIS’ limited attempts at sea have achieved some effects though, such as the shore-launched rocket attack on an Egyptian naval ship in August. Additionally, there was a recent attempt by ISIS to conduct an attack from the sea against a Libyan oil terminal, but it was thwarted by Libyan security forces.

Footage of ISIS affiliated insurgent group launching missile at Egyptian Timsah class patrol boat in July 2015. 

How Real is the Threat?

The lure of expanding operations into the maritime domain is enticing to terrorist groups. The relative isolation is real, and external response is limited. Terrorist attacks on land receive a rapid government response, in large numbers, and with many assets to thwart an attack. Case in point is the Al Qaeda attack at a luxury hotel in Burkina Faso in January 2016. Three members of an Al Qaeda group took 126 hostages and killed two dozen more before security forces stormed the hotel, killing the terrorists and freeing the hostages. A logical extension of the attacks in Burkina Faso would be an assault on a large and remote or underdefended luxury hotel- such as an underway cruise ship. The narrative ISIS hopes to convey from attacking a cruise ship at sea is akin to many horror movies: a captive victim with nowhere to turn for help.

Following VADM Johnson’s prediction, the Cruise Line International Association quickly stepped in to reassure its passengers that cruises are still safe, but are they? The last successful terrorist attack against a cruise ship was 30 years ago by Palestinians. Their original intent was to use the Achille Lauro as transport to Ashdod, Israel, to launch a terror attack ashore. This plan rapidly changed when a crew member discovered the terrorists/attackers cleaning their weapons.

Egyptian central security police guarding the gangplank on which diplomats and others go to and from the Italian cruise liner ?Achille Lauro? which arrived, Thursday, Oct. 10, 1985 in Port Said in this port after being hijacked by four Palestinian for more than 48-hours. The four hijackers has left Egypt after they surrendered go to the Egyptian authorities on Wednesday. (AP Photo)
Egyptian central security police guarding the gangplank on which diplomats and others go to and from the Italian cruise liner Achille Lauro which arrived, Thursday, Oct. 10, 1985 in Port Said after being hijacked by four Palestinian for more than 48-hours. (AP Photo)

While the Achille Lauro incident increased levels of security in the cruise ship world, threats to the cruise industry remain. In March 2015, cruise ship tourists visiting a museum during a stop in Tunis were attacked. Cruise lines are quick to cancel port visits in global hot spots, and most employ internal security forces. However, the allure for terrorists remains. Al Qaeda made plans as early as 2011 to capture a cruise ship and execute its passengers. Fortunately, those plans have failed to come to fruition as terrorist groups have found the task is harder than it looks.

While attacks on the open ocean remain a challenge, coastal attacks are more feasible. The Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba launched an attack in 2008 against Mumbai. They hijacked an Indian fishing boat and launched 10 terrorists ashore, ultimately killing 166 and injuring almost 500. The lack of a strong Coast Guard in both India and Pakistan certainly contributed to the terrorists’ success, and served as a wakeup call. In response to the Mumbai attacks, the Indian Navy was placed at the apex of India’s maritime security architecture and made responsible for both coastal and oceanic security. Since then, the Indian Navy has successfully prevented further attacks. However, even with the additional forces, indications persist that ISIS may be trying to infiltrate India by sea, disguised as fishermen.

Arguably, the most successful terrorist group on the sea was the Sri Lankan separatist group, the Tamil Tigers. In his treatise A Guerrilla Wat At Sea: The Sri Lankan Civil War , Professor Paul Povlock of the Naval War College describes how at their strongest, their maritime branch (the Sea Tigers) boasted a force of 3000 personnel with separate branches for logistics, intelligence, communications, offensive mining, and — every terrorists’ favorite — the suicide squad. They conducted sea denial with great success, even demonstrating the ability to sink Sri Lankan patrol boats using fast attack craft and suicide boats.

Small vessels employed by the Sea Tigers.
Small vessels employed by the Sea Tigers.

The Tigers continued their attacks against Sri Lanka for 20 years until the Sri Lankan Navy was able to effectively neutralize them. The Sri Lankan Navy now has a formidable maritime patrol, but not before they lost over 1000 men to the Sea Tigers. Hardly a day goes by without illegal fishermen being chased away or arrested by the Sri Lankan government, who is ever mindful that their waters could again be used for more nefarious purposes.

Sometimes terrorists’ appetites are far bigger than their stomachs, as was the case in September 2014 when Al Qaeda operatives attempted to hijack a Pakistani frigate. If successful, it would have had epic implications. However, the attempted takeover was thwarted by a sharp Pakistani gunner who noticed the inbound boat did not have standard issue gear. He engaged, destroying the terrorist boat, while commandos onboard the frigate subdued crew members sympathetic to the terrorist cause.

Defeat and Deter

Operating in the maritime domain is far more challenging than operations on land. The Somali pirates were originally fishermen and familiar with operating at sea, but it still took them years to develop an offshore “over the horizon” capability. The lack of successful attacks at sea by terrorist organizations in spite of their indicated desire is at least a partial validation of the efforts made by the maritime security community.

The effective shutdown of piracy off Somalia served as a model for defeating maritime crime, showing coastal nations the effects of naval presence in deterring illegal behavior at sea. Malaysia has all but shut down sea crime in its waters, and blunted terrorist attempts to enter Malaysia by aggressively patrolling their coasts. Nigeria has similarly stepped up its game in the Gulf of Guinea where their navy stopped two hijackings in one week and separately announced they would soon take delivery of an additional 50 boats- both demonstrations of commitment to peaceful use of their waters. That doesn’t mean the work is over. ISIS, who has the funds for major purchases, is attempting to acquire naval capabilities like 2 man submarines, high powered speed boats, boats fitted with machine guns and rocket launchers, and mine planners made easily available by less discerning arms providers such as Korea, China, and Russia.

While the likelihood of near-shore attacks remains a possibility, including against cruise ships, the chance that ISIS will attack blue water objectives out of sight of land is still remote. However, the odds will remain remote only as long as the navies of the world continue to provide a credible presence on the oceans. When the seas are no longer effectively patrolled, terrorist organizations will take advantage of the same opportunities for freedom of maneuver at sea that they currently enjoy ashore.

Captain Robert N. Hein is a career Surface Warfare Officer. He previously commanded the USS Gettysburg (CG-64) and the USS Nitze (DDG-94). You can follow him on Twitter: @the_sailor_dog. The views and opinions expressed are his own and do not reflect those of the Navy or the Department of Defense.

Featured Image: The U.S.S. Cole in 2000 after suffering an Al Qaeda attack in the port of Aden. 17 American sailors were killed, and 39 were injured.

Australia World’s Largest LNG exporter by 2018: Understanding Maritime Security Challenges

By Mohid Iftikhar

 According to the Oxford Institute for Energy studies by 2018; Australia would become world’s largest liquefied natural gas exporter (LNG). It is of cardinal importance to understand Australia’s global significance both towards strategic direction and growth through its LNG exports. In an article by the Submarine Institute of Australia; “Future Long Range Submarine Force Vital…” Australian LNG trade will climb more than $60 billion by 2020. Hence, in connection it is essential to analyze maritime security dimensions for Australia’s LNG exports. According to Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade;  Japan has been the largest export destination for Australia’s LNG over the last decade. In 2013, Japan was the destination for 92.4 per cent of Australia’s LNG exports by value, and 80.7 per cent by volume. Other major markets include China (4.2 per cent by value), the Republic of Korea (3.0 per cent) and Taiwan (0.4 per cent).”

The Asia-Pacific region holds great value to the Australian LNG, as it is a market with long term demands. In context of trade, global LNG industry faces competition with Qatar, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the U.S, but Australia has marked its position. Examined by Oxford Institute for Energy studies in their paper “The Future of Australian LNG Exports….” Australia aims at establishing its international position in the energy market and particularly towards the Asia-Pacific. Geopolitics of the Asia-Pacific has progressed, multidimensional forces promoting global and regional development including security ambitions. In relation, the Chinese initiative of the Silk Road and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Route aim to connect Africa, Europe and Asia, and poses numerous questions in the field international relations and development. Chinese enterprise predicts greater demand of LNG in the region, according to the Asia Times there will be over 900 projects involving 60 countries in the New Silk Road Economic Corridor. Simultaneously, the existing conflicts in the South China and East China Seas are a potential source of maritime security predicament; asking if conflict is evitable amongst states?

Internationally, LNG will also help Australia’s goal to establish itself as a more active participant in the Asia-Pacific region, as outlined in the government’s 2012 white paper “Australia in the Asian Century.” Perhaps, Australia does have a concrete direction of international growth through LNG exports, at the same time maritime security remains equally essential. On the same course, the Australian Defense white paper from May 2009, “Defending Australia in the Asia-Pacific century: Force 2030”, does signify importance of maritime security and a self-dependent defense strategy in the oceans.

A liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker operated by Energy Advance Co., a unit of Tokyo Gas Co., is moored at the company's Sodegaura plant in Sodegaura City, Chiba Prefecture, Japan, on Thursday, March 22, 2012. Japan's imports of LNG rose to a record last fiscal year as utilities turned to fossil fuels after the Fukushima nuclear disaster led to the shutdown of almost all the nation's atomic reactors. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg
A liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker operated by Energy Advance Co., a unit of Tokyo Gas Co., is moored at the company’s Sodegaura plant in Sodegaura City, Chiba Prefecture, Japan, on Thursday, March 22, 2012.

Maritime security challenges are interlinked through adverse economic breakdown for LNG exports that fall under threats of terrorism and piracy. Possibly, terrorism remains a vital concern as LNG cargo can be targeted as floating bombs,  the statement is supported as quoted in the book “Organizational and psychological aspects of terrorism”  by the Centre of Excellence Defence Against Terrorism, “There is a concern amongst many maritime terrorist experts that a terrorist group could use a hijacked LNG tanker as a floating bomb. The amount of LNG held in a large tanker could generate an explosion of a similar size to a small nuclear bomb.” . Religious radicalization in the Middle East and terrorism in South Asia and Southeast Asia are both critical towards safety of Australian LNG shipments to their destinations. While transnational concerns have a firm relationship between maritime commerce and security, concurrently the 21st century has evolved geo-political concerns. The increasing power projections and geo-strategic goals in the Asia-Pacific are strongly connected to international maritime security. The wider hypothesis can be “Effect of Geopolitics in the Asia-Pacific towards Maritime Security.” The relationship between geopolitical dynamics and transnational crimes in the seas has shaped a new picture; while an important question is; would the latter capitalize on the stance? 

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U.S ambitions in the Indian and Pacific Ocean are towards deploying 60% of its naval fleet by 2020. Perhaps, sea lines of communication for Australian exports are not only critical towards intra and interregional trade, but geopolitics post 2020 will evolve the architecture of maritime security.  It is equally important to sustain international harmony in the maritime sphere of Asia-Pacific, but are China, USA and other rising powers willing to extend collaboration and coalitions for maritime security? Many experts and scholars from war studies and international relations agree towards the minimum possibility towards a military conflict in the Asia-Pacific, but they don’t completely rule out the fact. Power projections in the seas of Asia-Pacific remain a source of anxiety, and the deployment of submarines and destroyers in strategic positions produces a negative image.

Transnational criminals today have accelerated in their modus operandi by advancing in strategic intelligence through contemporary technologies. The cyber domain remains sophisticated, but has its cons that can be favorable to criminals for locating LNG shipments through GPS tracking and etc. On the same note, the Straits of Malacca remain the central route for Australian LNG shipments to pass towards East Asia; the year 2014 had accounted for 75% of the world’s piracy attacks in the area. Further, in an article from BloombergView “Islamic State Is Rapidly Expanding in Southeast Asia” quoted as Southeast Asia is a key recruitment center for ISIS, the nexus between terrorism in Southeast Asia and Jihadi extremism from the Middle East evolves a broader challenge in the maritime route for Australian LNG shipments.

It is a question of international economic security towards safety of Australian LNG shipments, in two parts. First preventing an economic breakdown for Australia and second the dependence of importer states for their national operations and productivity. International development requires a sustainable mechanism of integration between states, and the Asia-Pacific region is evolving complex dynamics that inculcate development, geopolitical, race, and transnational challenges. Demand of LNG in the Asia-Pacific will extensively grow in forthcoming years; Australia will be a significant contributor towards the same. But geopolitics in the Asia-Pacific is defining competition in facets of arms race, strength and modern imperialism. Transnational crimes such as terrorism, radicalization and piracy are a threat to Australian LNG shipments capitalizing on geopolitical objectives in a camouflaged manner. Simply, while there is a debate going on amongst great and rising powers of who is right in the Asia-Pacific, transnational criminals are emerging through the sideways planning catastrophic events. 

The Asia-Pacific region in the maritime domain requires consensus building from global and rising powers. A direction towards international development, ownership of vital ocean resources and disputes on maritime boundaries are aspects that ignite geopolitical race. First the international framework under the United Nations convention on the Law of Seas (UNCLOS) must be followed by all states, which allows interpretation of rules and laws, simplifying dimensions of the international maritime mechanism. The International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) chalks out a coherent framework for safety of sea ports and vessels, uniformity applying the same particularly from maritime nations will allow combating transnational threats.  Second, to maintain international harmony in the oceans and minimizing threats from transnational challenges; stakeholders of the Asia-Pacific must devise a collective and collaborative strategy based on joint intelligence sharing. Safety and security of LNG shipments are not only important for Australia, but global operations  depend on it. Though Australia has collaborated with various states in Asia-Pacific towards maritime security, it is equally essential to initiate a productive platform towards dialogue that will allow the Asia-Pacific century to become a reality. Maritime security for Australia and other states can be strengthened by adapting the existing international framework towards laws and regulations of the seas; perhaps, this could initiate discussion and consenting on alliance and cooperation in the oceans.

Mohid Iftikhar has Masters of Philosophy in Peace & Conflict Studies from National Defence University, Pakistan and Bachelor in Business Administration from University of Southern Queensland, Australia. He has completed a short course on Defence & Security Management in collaboration with Defence Academy, UK, Cranfield University and NDU, PK.  He is a member of Center for International Maritime Security and Associate member, the Corbett Centre for Maritime Policy Studies, King’s College London. At present, he is working for the Federal Ministry of Planning Development & Reform in Pakistan.This article was prepared  by Mohid Iftikhar in his personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect of any Organization or Institute. 

ISPS: Operational Benefits, Administrative Burdens

Maritime Terrorism Image

Introduction

Every initiative has positive and negative sides. This applies equally to the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code.  Whilst it may be true that the ISPS Code introduced a new burden by way of the volume of paperwork it generates, its benefits outweigh the burdens. The reasons for this are as follows:

Violence against vessels will remain so long as maritime transport exists. Apart from piracy and armed robbery, we now have the threat of maritime terrorism, which poses real danger to the industry. Some of the world’s major sea lanes pass through narrow waterways, such as the Straits of Malacca and Gibraltar as well as the Panama Canal and Suez Canal, any of which could be an ideal target for terrorist attack on ships.

We cannot think of all the potential targets for maritime terrorists. A good example is the hijacking of the Italian flagged cruise ship, Achille Lauro, by four terrorists who were members of the Palestinian Liberation Front (PLF) on 7th October 1985 in Egyptian territorial waters near the seaport port of Alexandria, which had about 800 passengers on board, excluding the crew. The PLF terrorists had demanded the release of fifty Palestinians held in Israeli prisons as the reason for their action, killed a disabled passenger in a wheelchair and threw his body overboard in the course of the stalemate. If such an incident were to take place today, it may involve more lives because cruise ships these days may be better described as floating ‘townships’ with capacity to carry thousands of passengers. For instance, the Italian flagged cruise ship, Costa Concordia, which grounded on January 13th 2012 was 114,137 gross tons with 13 decks and was known to have had passengers and crew in excess of 3,200 and 1000 respectively on board.

isps code

Genesis of the ISPS Code

A chronology of the events which led to adoption of the ISPS Code may shed light on the theme of this article. The Achille Lauro incident mentioned above led to an outcry by the international community. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) being the United Nations specialised Agency with responsibility for safety and security of shipping acted accordingly by adopting Resolution A.584(14) on 20th November 1985 on Measures to Prevent Unlawful Acts Which Threaten the Safety of Ships and the Security of their Passengers and Crews. Some countries, namely Austria, Egypt and Italy, as well as the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), urged the IMO in 1986, to prepare a convention to tackle unlawful acts against the safety of maritime navigation on the basis that there was a gap that needed to be filled by having a new convention to deal with maritime terrorism because the international law for unlawful acts against ships was far behind, compared to the civil aviation sector which had adopted the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation in 1973, otherwise commonly known as the Montreal Convention. Thus a conference was held in the early part of March 1988 in Rome, and with support from more States, on 10th March 1988 the conference adopted the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA Convention) 1988. The SUA Convention 1988 was to ensure that appropriate action is taken against persons committing unlawful acts against ships and requires governments to extradite or prosecute offenders.

At the time of the 11th September 2001 (9/11) terrorist attacks in the United States, the SUA Convention which came into force on 1st March 1992 had been ratified by only 67 countries, worldwide. However, after the 9/11 attacks, the number of ratifications for the SUA Convention skyrocketed significantly to 146 States by spring of 2008, which reflects how serious the international community now regard the issue of terrorism and its potential threat to the maritime sector. Unfortunately the SUA Convention 1988 was seen as a toothless bulldog as it had no law enforcement provisions to deal with impending offences and failed to address the growing trend of global terrorism with proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Thus after the 9/11 attacks, in November 2001 the IMO adopted Resolution A.924(22) to review existing measures to prevent and suppress terrorist acts against ships at sea and in ports, to improve security aboard and ashore so as to reduce risk to passengers and crew, as well as port workers on board ships and ashore, and to ships and their cargoes.

Consequently, a diplomatic conference took place at the IMO Secretariat in London from 9th to 13th December 2002 for measures to be taken to strengthen maritime security and to prevent and suppress acts of terrorism against shipping. That conference adopted a number of amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) 1974, the most important of which introduced the ISPS Code as chapter XI-2 of SOLAS. The ISPS Code came into force on 1st July 2004. As we know, Part ‘A’ of the ISPS Code contains detailed security-related requirements for Governments, Port Authorities and Shipping Companies which are mandatory, and Part ‘B’ contain guidelines on how the mandatory requirements are to be met.

At about the same time while the ISPS Code was in the making, there was preparatory work to toughen the SUA Convention. With backing of the United Nations General Assembly through Resolution 59/24 of 17th November 2004, the SUA Convention 1988 and the accompanying Protocol on Fixed Platforms were amended on 14th October 2005 with the adoption of The 2005 Protocol to the SUA Convention and The 2005 SUA Fixed Platforms Protocol. Both Protocols created a new criminal offence for any person who unlawfully and intentionally attempts to intimidate a population or compel a Government or an international organisation. The 2005 SUA Protocols now cover modern day terrorist threats, including use of Biological, Chemical and Nuclear (BCN) weapons and materials, and to allow officials to board foreign flagged ships on the high seas to search for potential terrorists and their weapons, or to assist a vessel suspected to be under attack in similar circumstances.

A preventive instrument 

The main aim of the ISPS Code is to serve as a preventive, rather than curative instrument. No instrument will eradicate terrorism and other unlawful acts completely, just as the 1973 Montreal Convention in civil aviation did not prevent the 9/11 attacks. The paperwork generated by the ISPS Code may be a burden, but it serves as a constant reminder of the potential threat we all face, which may help to minimise potential atrocities against vessels, including crew, passengers, cargoes and port facilities.

I wish we knew, but we may never know how many potential terrorist attacks or other unlawful acts which have been prevented by the ISPS Code.  The intangible benefit may be seen from the fact that at least we have not had any terrorist attacks on the scale of the 9/11 attacks in the maritime sector (which is not impossible). Surely, no seafarer would like to witness something like the 9/11 attacks.

Conclusion

As we mark the 10th anniversary of the ISPS Code this month (July 2014), we need to reflect on its intangible benefits. The additional paperwork created by the ISPS Code is a constant reminder of the need for everyone in the maritime industry to be vigilant, which in turn keeps us on the alert that the maritime sector may be a potential target for a terrorist attack or other unlawful acts, any day, anytime, anywhere. No international instrument, whether labelled as a Convention, Treaty, Code, Protocol, Pact, Accord, Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) or by any other designation, will stop a determined suicide bomber or criminal from carrying out an atrocious act, but vigilance may help to minimise, if not prevent it.

Herbert is the CEO of Global Maritime Bureau, an international maritime consultancy firm in the UK. He is a dual qualified lawyer in England & Wales and Nigeria and a member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. He is an expert in international maritime and admiralty law, international dispute resolution services and multi-jurisdictional disputes. He is a Supporting member of London Maritime Arbitrators Association (LMAA), member of the International Maritime Statistics Forum (IMSF) and a member of International Maritime Organisation (IMO) Roster of Expert Consultants. 

Forward from the Sea…and Land

The EU agreed in March to conduct counter-piracy on land.

On the east coast of Africa and along the southern Arabian Peninsula, the U.S. has been waging a campaign against pirate and terrorist targets from naval forces offshore. Early reports today detail European militaries’ first counter-piracy operation ashore. A helicopter from EU Naval Force Somalia’s Operation Atalanta struck a pirate base camp in Somalia’s Mudug region and destroyed several pirate skiffs and other supplies stowed on a beach.

Britain’s The Telegraph gives a detailed account:

The dawn raid, launched from one of nine European warships patrolling off Somalia, was aimed at “making life as difficult for pirates on land as we’re making it at sea”, an EU military official said.

A helicopter flew low along the beach with a door gunner on mounted machine gun troops firing at the targets below.

The operation was ordered after weeks of surveillance from maritime patrol aircraft and other surveillance aircraft circling above the pirates’ known hideouts.

Best not to leave your things unattended.

Five small attack boats with powerful outboard engines were “rendered inoperable” and pirates said that the strike also hit drums of diesel and a weapons store.

The attack involved troops from several of the European navies including seven frigates currently patrolling off Somalia, from France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Portugal.

Officials said it was “a European mission” and would not specify from which warship the strike was launched.

But not all efforts against piracy and terrorism in the region involve strikes from the sea. In addition to the use of U.S. Navy SEALS, Afloat Forward Staging Bases, naval vessels and naval aviation assets, the U.S. is also using land-based air power. A report in The Aviationist (h/t Danger Room) describes the role of the Air Force and an F-15E squadron in augmenting the drone strikes in the region. The ring around the Indian Ocean is proving to be a perfect test bed of low-intensity power projection concepts and technologies.