The COVID-19 Crisis And Maritime Security Threats

                                                                                                                            According to a prominent maritime security consultancy, the Coronavirus emergency will be the defining threat trend of the year with simultaneous impacts in a number of areas.

Dryad Global says the emergence of COVID-19 as a severe global public health issue has created significant ramifications, including economic disruption and the threat of a global recession, logistical complexities, geopolitical considerations, and security issues.

The shipping industry and maritime domain has not been insulated from these. It is expected that COVID-19 will be the defining threat trend of the year, which will shape commercial and security trends within shipping. During this period of instability, it is key that vessels, vessel owners and the maritime community rely on clear-headed, data-driven and reliable solutions, which will facilitate economic activity within this new reality.

West Africa is particularly vulnerable to rises in piracy, partly driven by a lack of effective mitigation strategies, and co-ordinated security responses to piracy and maritime crime remain embryonic across the region. Should, as is likely, COVID-19 spread out throughout sub-Saharan Africa, overwhelming healthcare systems and becoming most states’ main priority, efforts to mitigate regional maritime crime in West Africa will likely be neglected. Therefore, with the heightened risk that security responses are hampered due to widespread infection, it is unlikely there will be a decrease in piracy incidents and a partial increase is eminently possible. Nigeria is likely to remain the epicentre of West African maritime security issues, with any downturn in vessel volume unlikely to alter the current trend.

Dryad currently assesses the likely impact of COVID-19 on piracy in the Indian Ocean as minimal. While there has been an increase in the number of reported incidents in the Gulf of Aden in 2020, none of these incidents have been confirmed as acts of piracy. The spread of COIVID-19 throughout the key risk areas in the Indian Ocean, is unlikely to significantly alter events or the security picture in the short to medium-term.

As states increasingly restrict the movement of citizens, trade is likely to be exacerbated in areas such as the Gulf of Guinea, Gulf of Aden, Red Sea, Gulf of Oman and the Malacca Strait, where black market activity has been observed in the past. The economic impact of COVID-19 on these areas is likely to lead to an increase in illicit maritime trading. The scale of COVID-19 infection in global maritime crime hotspots will likely determine the degree to which current social economic problems are exacerbated by the crisis. Where there is evidence of longer-term economic impact then it is likely that there will be an increase in incidents.

As an industry, we should assume that the spread of COVID-19 will result in the recontextualization of the operational threat profile. As nation states focus on their own internal affairs, it is likely that current geopolitical threats will fade for the time being.

However, this is not to suggest that the overall threat to vessels and personnel will reduce or disappear. Operational security may be negatively impacted by reductions in monitoring and enforcement capabilities, as organisations struggle with maintaining deployment commitments.

Pressure on the maritime industry resulting from complex geopolitical narratives, such as those seen with Iran in the Persian Gulf, which was a key driver of maritime instability in 2019, have likely reduced considerably for the coming months. However, Iran is currently grappling with issues resulting from ongoing economic isolation, global oversupply of oil and the struggle to contain COVID-19.

Fragile states with volatile domestic agendas are most likely to suffer violence and disorder in the short to medium term as COVID-19 spreads. Theft, looting, and general disorder will likely be a feature of many states.

As disorder and panic spread, it is realistic to anticipate a rise in global migration from states which cannot sufficiently quarantine and lockdown infected regions. An area of particular concern is Libya, which has in recent years seen high levels of migration.

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