Threats and Challenges to Maritime Security

Maritime law, also known as Admiralty Law is a body of rules governing different maritime matters. It is a law which regulates the activities of ships and shipping. Maritime law covers various fields such as the fishing industry, employment issues related to the crew, insurance, property damage etc. Although maritime law and law of the seas are sometimes used anonymously, they differ from each other. Maritime law is generally applied to private shipping law while the term ‘law of the sea’ signifies the maritime segment of public international law.

Threats and Challenges


Article 101 of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) determines that Piracy consists of any of the following acts:

(a) any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed:

(i) on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or  against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;

(ii) against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;

(b) any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft;

(c) any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph (a) or (b).

Piracy is a violent act of robbery or criminal violence by a group of persons commonly known as pirates on other ships or boats with the intention of stealing and acquiring valuable goods and cargo. Piracy is considered as an offence against the nations, they have the authority to seize a pirate ship. The warships of a nation can also seize the ship, try them and punish them accordingly.

Piracy is one of the major threat to the maritime security as it compromises the security of those travelling in the seas. Piracy has been in motion throughout the history. In the Mediterranean sea, various crews such as Greeks, Romans, and Phoenician and the Vikings were involved in the act of piracy.

Piracy flourished from the 16th to the 18th century in the nations such as Morocco, Algiers, Tunisia and Tripoli so much so that these states were being called as pirate states. In the 19th century, piracy was suppressed by the actions taken up by countries such as America, Britain and France.

The world is still plagued by acts of piracy which usually take place near the coasts of African countries. In May, 2017 a Comoros-flagged small tanker Aris 13 was hijacked near Somalia’s Puntland region.

Threats and Challenges to Maritime Security

Maritime Terrorism

Maritime terrorism is also one of the major threats plaguing the countries in the modern time. It is a violent act by a terrorist outfit in the pursuance of different objectives from robbery to murder. Although there have been very few cases of maritime terrorism in recent years with the last major incident happening in the year 2002 with the bombing of the M/V Limburg while it was underway in Yemen.

One of the most destructive acts of maritime terrorism took place when the Abu Sayaaf Group participated in the bombing of the Superferry 14 in the Manila Bay in February 2004 in which 116 people were killed. Another terrorist group which is often involved in the acts of maritime terrorism is Al-Qaeda. It has the most far-reaching and developed maritime strategy. Their four-part strategy consists of: 1) suicide attacks on vessels, 2) hijacking ships and using them as “weapons” against port or transportation infrastructure, 3) attacking large vessels such as super tankers from the air by using explosive-laden small aircraft, and 4) attacking vessels with underwater demolition teams or with suicide bombers.

Despite the low frequency of the occurrence of acts related to maritime terrorism, the world cannot breathe a sigh of relief just yet as evident from the statement of a former UK First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff according to whom maritime terrorism is  “a clear and present danger” that may “potentially cripple global trade and have grave knock-on effects on developed economies.” Given the potential impacts, the threat of maritime terrorism must continue to be taken very seriously.

Threats and Challenges to Maritime Security


Trafficking in the high seas may be of three types which includes Arms, Psychotropic substances and people. It is one of the major challenges and threats to the maritime security. Arms, drugs and even human beings are trafficked across countries via the means of seas. Smugglers use the sea to smuggle contraband into various countries. Despite steps taken by the government of various nations, trafficking through high seas is continuously on the rise and there seems very little chance that it might mitigate in the near future.

Different laws and conventions to curb the threat have been adopted by nations. This includes Law of the Sea Convention, 2005 SUA protocol, UNSC resolution 1540 and 1718.

Threats and Challenges to Maritime Security

IUU Fishing

IUU or Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing is a type of illegal fishing which is one of the greatest threats to the marine exosystems due to its potent ability to undermine national and regional efforts to manage fisheries sustainably as well as endeavours to conserve marine biodiversity. IUU results in depletion of fish stocks, destroys marine habitats, distorts competition and weakens coastal communities.

Illegal fishing refers to the fishing conducted by the foreign vessels in the seas which are under the jurisdiction of another country without the permission of that state or in contravention to its rules and regulations. Conducted by vessels flying the flag of States that are parties to a relevant regional fisheries management organisation but operate in contravention of the conservation and management measures adopted by that organisation and by which the States are bound, or relevant provisions of the applicable international law.

Unreported fishing refers to the fishing which is not reported to the relevant authorities of states in contravention to the laws and regulations.

Unregulated fishing is conducted by a foreign vessels which are without any nationality in the area of application of a relevant regional fisheries management organization. The manner in which these vessels practice fishing in these areas is in contravention to the rules and regulations of the organizations in the area of which they are conducting fishing.

Various steps have been taken by the United Nations to prevent IUU from taking place. One of the major steps taken by them is the EU regulation to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing which entered into force on January 1, 2010. The commission under this regulation is working smoothly ensuring that the IUU fishing is curbed to a bare minimum. IUU fishing undermines national efforts to conserve and manage fish stocks thereby inhibiting progress towards achieving the goals of long-term sustainability.


The issue of maritime security is a very important one as most of the trade, commerce and travelling is conducted in the international waters and high seas in the modern times as a result of which the threats and challenges mentioned above menacing the maritime security need to be curbed to ensure security of the human beings who are travelling via sea as well as sea creatures who are threatened by various human activities. Various nations along with the UN and other organisations such as International Maritime Organisation(IMO) are continuously working in this direction and the time is not far when the sea will be safe and secure for all.