All posts by Chris Rawley

U.S. Navy, Commander

Americas Week

When discussing global maritime security, an area of the world that is sometimes given short shrift is the Caribbean, Central, and South America. Billions of dollars of trade flow through the region’s waters, and billions in revenue are brought in by robust fisheries, petroleum, and tourism industries.  Of course, illicit trafficking and maritime crime factors into Latin latinamerica2America’s maritime security picture as well.  The region’s naval and coast guard forces are modernizing accordingly to meet these challenges and opportunities.

This week, CIMSEC is pleased to host some extremely talented and experienced guest writers who focus their work in this region.   Tomorrow, Dr. Sabrina Medeiros, a professor at the Inter-American Defense College, will discuss the role of regional organizations in enhancing maritime security in the area.

On Wednesday, we’ll hear from Dr. Roberto Pereyra, a retired rear admiral in the Argentine Navy and senior professor at IADC, who will  highlight the importance of navies in the Southern Hemisphere. In recognition of our growing Spanish-speaking membership, we’ll publish Dr. Pereyra’s article in Spanish on Wednesday, then an English translation on Thursday. Wrapping up the week on Friday will be frequent CIMSEC contributor Alex Calvo of Nagoya University, with his thoughts in how irregular warfare could impact the long-simmering Falklands/Malvinas situation.

Great thanks goes to Rear Admiral (retired – Brazilian Navy) Paulo Biasoli, for helping us arrange these authors.

Maritime Security Student Writers Week

By Chris Rawley

One of the goals of CIMSEC is to bring new perspectives into the discussion on maritime security and to break down traditionalcomposition-notebook barriers in the conversation between younger and older voices, military and civilians, and across international partners.  Along these lines, we recently hosted our first annual Maritime Security Scholarship Essay Contest.  We are pleased to announce the three contest winners and publish their essays here this week.  They are:

1st Place, and the winner of a $500 cash scholarship is Steel Templin, from Groveland, Florida.

2nd Place, receiving a $250 scholarship is Griffin Cannon, from South Burlington, Vermont.

Honorable mention goes to Nolan McEleney, of Gaithersburg, Maryland, who will receive $150.

The challenges piracy poses to freedom on the seas is a timeless topic, so it’s no wonder that two of our winning essayists decided to cover this topic.  Perhaps as a sign of trends to come, they both suggest a role for unmanned systems in fighting piracy.  Our honorable mention winner outlines the importance the space domain to maritime security.  Well done to our participants and winners!  We look forward to seeing many more fine essays next year.

CIMSEC High School Scholarship Essay Contest

The Center for International Maritime Security is pleased to announce our first annual Maritime Security Scholarship Essay Contest. In an effort to further our mission of spreading awareness of security issues impacting the ocean commons, CIMSEC is issuing  a call for papers from secondary school students around the world. It’s time to put on your nautical caps and think, read, and write about maritime security. A broad range of paper topics are encouraged, but should exhibit an awareness and interest in maritime or naval affairs. Submissions will be judged on originality of thought, logic, and ability to demonstrate the importance of the chosen topic to maritime security.


  • First Place: “Hipple Essay Prize” – $500 US
  • Second Place – $250 US
  • Honorable Mention – $150 US

Prize winners and other exceptional essays will be published on CIMSEC’s “Next War Blog.”

Eligibility: The contest is open to any Secondary/High School Student, internationally. Submissions should include proof of student status (copy of student ID or transcript) along with the entrant’s full name and address.

Deadline: Contest entries are due no later than 15 January 2015 and the winners will be announced in the early spring.

Submissions: Entries of no more than 1,500 words in length should be emailed in Microsoft Word or .pdf format to  Submissions will only be accepted in English, but we will be happy to help with light editing for non-native English speaking entries.

Terrorists, Tyrants, and Tobacco: How the Illicit Cigarette Trade Fuels Instability in the Middle East

This article is part of our “Border Control Week”

The sea is the circulatory system of the world economy, through which the economic blood of trade, ideas, and information flows.  At odds with this healthy economic lifeblood are the pathogens of theft, corruption, and illicit trafficking.  In addition to patently illegal contraband, such as narcotics and weapons, numerous illicit goods move through the maritime transportation system, avoiding taxes and undermining legitimate trade.  Tobacco is one of the most commonly smuggled illicit goods around the world.  The commodity moves in multiple directions, sometimes both to and from the same countries, making it challenging to understand the traffic flow.  Specifically, the distribution of substandard, untaxed cigarettes through the Eastern Mediterranean involves a complex criminal network of producers, smugglers, and dealers and benefits nefarious actors across the Levant.

Turkish Coast Guard Offshore Patrol Vessel SG-701 Dost (image courtesy Turkish Coast Guard Command)
Turkish Coast Guard Offshore Patrol Vessel SG-701 Dost (image courtesy Turkish Coast Guard Command)

These substandard cigarettes are often cheaply made in Eastern Europe, circumventing European Union safety regulations.  Brands such Prestige and Victory are packed aboard container ships in Bulgaria which move through the Black Sea, then into the Aegean via the Bosporus Strait.  From there, some of the contraband shipments make their way to Syria, while others continue down to the Red Sea and around to the Persian Gulf.  The Gulf-bound cigarettes likely continue into Iraq and Turkey.  In the Eastern Med, many are offloaded at the Syrian port of Latakia.  The cigarette distribution network in Western Syria is controlled by and benefits the Assad family while bypassing various international sanctions against the authoritarian regime.

Upon arrival from sea at the port of Latakia, cigarettes move through a series of storage warehouses and distribution points from Assad-controlled coastal regions of western Syria into transshipment points near the Turkish border that are sometimes controlled by smugglers aligned with the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL).  The cheap cigarettes are sold at a premium price in Syria and also smuggled across several border points into Southern Turkey. In a typical display of jihadist hypocrisy, ISIL has publicly burned shipments of cigarettes to enforce Sharia while continuing to profit from their smuggling into Turkey.  The product and profit not only support ISIL and their organized crime network, but other Al-Qaeda affiliates and foreign fighters drawn to the region.  The illicit tobacco trade is an instrumental part of their funding portfolio, which also includes weapons trafficking, and sale of stolen oil.

Disrupting a trade that crosses multiple sea and land borders (some of which are in war-torn countries) is challenging to say the least.  Law enforcement and military organizations are incentivized to ignore or take action against illicit smuggling networks for various reasons.  Clearly, customs officials in more than one jurisdiction are complicit in looking the other way or even facilitating these illegal cigarette shipments that contribute to instability in the Middle East.  On the other hand, one of the more active maritime law enforcement authorities in combating the illicit tobacco trade is Turkey’s Coast Guard.  In 2013, the organization seized 177,420 packs of cigarettes, down from over half a million in 2012.  The organization’s deployments in the Bosphorus Strait and along the Eastern Mediterranean coastline place it in a strategic position to combat shipments moving towards Syria.

Contraband cigarettes seized in August 2014 at Thessaloniki. (image courtesy of Hellenic Coast Guard).
Contraband cigarettes seized in August 2014 at Thessaloniki. (image courtesy of Hellenic Coast Guard).

Another regional player with a demonstrated a propensity to disrupt the illicit tobacco trade is the Hellenic Coast Guard.  The agency recently arrested two smugglers and seized a container full of nearly nine million contraband cigarettes at the port of Thessaloniki.  Interdicting a cargo ship at sea to find a contraband cargo in one or more specific containers is extremely difficult from a tactical perspective and often unsuccessful.  But intelligence sharing can assist in narrowing down the search and aiding in the removal of suspect containers as the ships make port while not disrupting the flow of legal cargo.  Additional cooperation between intelligence services, private companies, and maritime law enforcement will erode the illicit cigarette trade, and reduce the profits supporting the region’s bad actors.

Chris Rawley is a Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve with experience in maritime interdiction and counter-smuggling at the tactical and operational levels.   The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Defense or any of its agencies.