Over the last few decades, global transformation and economic interconnectedness has increased the reliance on maritime routes. . It is estimated that over 90 percent of global trade is carried out through the Sea Lanes of Communications (SLOCs) and thus the significance of maritime security is more evident. The SLOCs have become crucial for advancing the economic, political, and strategic agendas for any country. The mounting dependence on such maritime routes has also made them vulnerable to multifaceted threats and challenges. Therefore, maritime security needs have instigated a new debate in academic and policymaking circles.
The contemporary debates on maritime security refer to traditional and non-traditional security threats. There is also a growing realization that no country can unilaterally cope with the threats emanating from the sea as these threats - terrorism, piracy, climate change, unregulated exploitation of marine resources, and transnational smuggling (of narcotics, people and arms) - transcend borders.
Over the past two decades the world has witnessed a considerable rise in terrorist activities by individuals and groups. Maritime terrorism aims to destroy coastal facilities and disrupt the maritime trade flow. Such terrorist attacks have also been directed at Navies in the Indian Ocean (IO) and have been carried out by different groups like Al Qaeda, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE), and Houthi Rebels of Yemen. For instance, in 2000 two American destroyers, USS Sullivan and USS Cole, were attacked by Al-Qaeda in IO. Followed by that, in 2002 a French supertanker Limburg was also rammed by an explosive-laden vessel. In 2010 the Japanese oil tanker M Star also faced similar attack around Strait of Hormuz. These attacks were believed to have been executed by the Al-Qaeda operatives. The LTTE with its naval arm Sea Tigers also carried out attacks against the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN). Similarly, since 2017, Houthi rebels of Yemen have also attacked Saudi led coalition warships and commercial vessels. The most recent attack by Houthis was in July 2018 when Saudi oil tanker MT Abqaiq was attacked in the Rea Sea. Given these frequent attacks, it may be concluded that maritime terrorism presents serious threat to global trade.
Climate Change and Environmental Degradation
Environmental degradation is a serious non-traditional threat to economic and sustainable use of oceans. Former Australian Navy officer and the maritime security analyst Commodore Dr. Lee Cordner maintains that “the greatest threats to the economic prospects of IO are presented by the combined impact of climate change and environmental degradation”. The rising ocean temperatures and average sea levels manifest the effects of climate change and marine pollution. The high level of dumping, waste disposal, and oil spills in the IO have contributed to the degradation of marine environment. Given the limited capacity of developing IO nations, the consequences of marine environmental degradations are likely to be more severe in the region.
Deterioration of oceanic environment is likely to be translated into many other security challenges in maritime domain. The studies on the impact of climate change suggest that it will intensify inter-state and intra-state competition over sea-based natural resources. Moreover, higher frequency of extreme weather events (such as hurricanes, flooding, and drought) and a rise in ocean levels are likely to spur greater migration of people. Such phenomenon will upset the demographic balance and may pose challenges to regional security. Climate change and resource competition will have major political, economic, and security implications. The tremors of this emerging situation will be felt predominantly in coastal areas and has the intensity to transcend the borders. It, thus, necessitates the immediate considerations and collective global action with significant maritime security dimensions.
Unregulated Exploitation of Marine Resources
The IO is a warm water body with abundant minerals, seaweeds, and planktons which sustains rich bio-diversity and large fish stocks. The ocean presents significant stocks of proteins for all the coastal and hinterland regions around the globe. Fisheries is considered as a renewable source, however, the illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) exploitation will certainly make this stock go extinct. In addition to depletion of several fish species with broader consequences for food supply, the problem of IUU fishing in the IO is linked with the loss of economic benefits and livelihood for the island states. It is believed that IUU fishing is expected to increase as fish stocks in traditional fishing areas are exhausted and fishers will move to more distant waters. Despite all international instruments and conventions, IUU fishing continues to present challenges to limit benefits of blue economy.
Illegal Trafficking (Arms, Drugs & Human)
Small arms and light weapons (SALW), drugs, and human trafficking are the organized transnational crimes carried out through the sea. The sea provides these networks easy way to carry their activities across the globe and engage more non-state actors. Human trafficking has seen significant rise due to the political upheavals and intra-state conflicts. Moreover, the poor socio-economic conditions in least developed countries have also enhanced human trafficking. The groups and networks involved in human trafficking mostly transport individuals through sea routes as they are vast, diverse, and often unregulated in nature. SALW trafficking is another transnational crime that poses serious threat to the political, economic, and social well-being. The political instability and conflict in various states of Asia and Africa are the prime reasons that encourage the illicit transportation of weapons through sea.
Given the intensity and magnitude of non-traditional security threats, it is not possible for any state to counter them alone. In this context, a collaborative maritime security mechanism with participation of regional and extra-regional states is inevitable. The multinational engagements like Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) and Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) have to broaden their scope to effectively counter these non-traditional threats in benefiting manner. Moreover, the regional and extra-regional powers need to undertake collaborative initiatives to ensure safe navigation and security of global trade transiting through IO sea routes.