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Analyzing Maritime Security: Capacity Building in the Western Indian Ocean

Introducing SAFE SEAS: Analyzing Maritime Security Capacity Building in the Western Indian Ocean

Principal Investigator: Dr Christian Bueger, Cardiff University


8th June 2017

Development, Security and the Oceans: Celebrating World Oceans Day, Cardiff University

 In celebration of World Oceans Day, the Sustainable Places Research Institute and the Crime and Security Research Institute at Cardiff University held a seminar with the aim of exploring linkages between some of the key challenges facing the ocean space.

The afternoon seminar brought together speakers with expertise in maritime affairs and socio-ecological policy from Cardiff University and beyond. Through a series of presentations and debate, the seminar explored some of the key challenges of achieving the aims of SDG 14 including maritime security, ecology and food security. Discussion focussed primarily around the link between social, ecological and economic development in island and coastal communities.

Inclusive forms of maritime governance

The first part of the seminar focused on Law Enforcement at Sea. Professor Tim Edmunds, University of Bristol and Co-Investigator of the Safe Seas project, highlighted the challenges of ocean governance and maritime security. He emphasised the need to develop more holistic forms of maritime governance and more inclusive forms of maritime governance. Capacity building and coalitions of interest were flagged as mechanisms supporting more inclusive forms of maritime governance.

Sea as a public space

The ontological challenge of governing ocean space was explored by Dr Barry Ryan of Keele University. Ryan suggested ocean space has ultimately become defined by those who police it and questioned how it could be governed more democratically. He suggested that more participatory forms of governance at the micro-hydro scale are necessary so that the sea can ultimately be viewed and used as a public space.

Fishery crimes are not just about fish

Peter Horn of The Pew Charitable Trusts gave some practical insight to the challenges of maritime governance, discussing the work of the foundation to address fishery crimes. He emphasized that fishery crimes are not just about fish, but often linked to other illegal activities – including human trafficking, corruption and evasion of penalties – which make it a particularly complex and urgent issue to address.

Security and coastal communities

The session provoked thinking around ways in which the governance of maritime space may be approached both ontologically and politically in a more sustainable fashion in order to meet Sustainable Development Goal 14. In the Q&A session, participants highlighted the complexity of land-sea jurisdictions and how surveillance technology at sea can be both enabling and constraining. Others questioned the need to aim for security and asked whether beginning from the point of insecurity is more helpful. Such a viewpoint considers the complex ways in which communities are affected by security measures, often in ways not necessarily enhancing livelihoods or well-being.

Maritime security discourse not just military defence

The second panel explored sustainable development issues and the ocean in the light of SDG14. Professor Susan Baker opened the second session with a discussion of issues faced by Small Island Developing States (SIDS) using marine resource dependency in the Seychelles as an illustrative example. She explored issues such as concerns over the security of food and nutrition, water, energy and the link to maritime crime. Baker identified challenges of building capacity for effective management of marine resources and highlighted that security discourse has evolved from military defence but also practices of social protection in welfare state regimes.


Hidden’ element of global fisheries production

Dr Leanne Cullen-Unsworth then took proceedings to a micro-level with a focus on securing a sustainable future for seagrass meadows, which constitutes a fundamental, yet ‘hidden’ element of global fisheries production. Cullen-Unsworth highlighted the role of seagrass meadows for concerns over food security and argued for better understanding of the interface between marine biodiversity conservation and socio-economic activities. Seagrass, as a habitat and ecosystem for fish, illustrates to some degree the cyclical and interconnected nature of maritime security and development.

Sustainable use of the ocean - the right kinds of food

Finally, Dr Jessica Paddock (Sustainable Consumption Institute, Manchester University) presented on marine resources for sustainable development within SDG14. This presentation explored ideas around conservation and sustainable use of the ocean and marine resources to promote access to affordable and appropriate food. She highlighted how food security is not simply an issue of ‘supply’, but supply of the right kinds of food for human wellbeing including affordable, culturally appropriate food. Paddock used the Turks and Caicos Islands as illustrative examples of the negative impacts of illegal activity in terms of food quality, access and appropriateness on SIDs.

Inter-linkages and trade-offs

The Q&A session participants discussed the costs and benefits of framing development challenges such as malnutrition in the language of security. The importance of education – in contrast to law enforcement responses – was discussed, but it was cautioned that soft tools approaches alone are not sufficient – institutions must also be involved in nurturing local buy in and building capacities. Participants agreed that the inter-linkages between security and development and in particular the trade-offs between pursuing several issue-specific agendas simultaneously require further attention.

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On March 21st 2017, Dr Christian Bueger published an article in The Conversation about this research: Somali sea hijack is a warning signal: the pirates are down but not out


Maritime insecurity significantly threatens the sustainable development and human security of coastal countries in the western Indian Ocean region. Problems such as piracy, the smuggling of people, weapons, narcotics and illicit goods, illegal fishing and other environmental crimes have a significant impact on local economies, their potential for growth and the prospects of realizing in particular SDG14. The outbreak and escalation of Somali piracy from 2008 to 2012 has shown that maritime insecurities are interconnected and that the capacity of African states are insufficient to prevent crime at sea and to realize the developmental potential of the maritime economy. Protecting territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zones, preventing maritime crimes, such as piracy and illegal fishing, and ensuring the sustainable exploitation of maritime resources requires significant law enforcement capacities, information sharing tools and working maritime governance structures.

SAFE SEAS is the first project to systematically study Maritime Security Sector Reform (MSSR) processes in a comparative manner. The objective is, firstly, to conduct a pilot study which introduces the problems of MSSR to the broader security governance debate, and, secondly, to use the developed evidence and core insights from the wider SSR debate to provide guidance to policy and planning. Through mapping MSSR processes in Djibouti, Kenya, the Seychelles, Somalia and regionally, and evaluating these in the light of accountability, effectiveness, ownership and transparency, the project will also develop key guidelines and a best practice toolkit for the planning, programming and implementation of maritime security capacity building and maritime security sector reform.

The project has already undertaken innovative work on understanding the security-sustainable development nexus at sea within the framework of SDG14. As research carried out within SAFE SEAS has shown, in maritime spaces like the western Indian Ocean, maritime criminality damages prospects for sustainable development of ocean resources, provides a justification for piracy within disadvantaged coastal communities and undermines trust in national institutions and international capacity building efforts. Therefore, it is crucial that both agendas are considered together. This will open the path to new synergies and contribute to safer and more sustainable management of the world’s ocean resources and the promotion of sustainable futures for island and coastal communities.


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