Event ReportsPublished on Nov 29, 2004
Maritime terrorism directed at international trade and energy supplies is not just within the realm of possibility but a distinct threat that confronts the international community. Acts of maritime terrorism of a noticeable scale began with the Palestinian Liberation Front hijacking an Italian cruise ship in 1985.
Report on Maritime Counter Terrorism
Maritime terrorism directed at international trade and energy supplies is not just within the realm of possibility but a distinct threat that confronts the international community. Acts of maritime terrorism of a noticeable scale began with the Palestinian Liberation Front hijacking an Italian cruise ship in 1985. This was followed by the attack on the US naval ship USS Cole off the port of Aden by Al Qaeda in October, 2000. Some acts of maritime terrorism of a tactical nature by suspected Al Qaeda elements in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia have also been thwarted. These attacks were reportedly planned against US naval ships visiting the ports in these regions. The LTTE of Sri Lanka has also carried out strategic attacks on maritime targets in order to achieve its final objective of an independent Tamil State. The only maritime attack of a strategic nature by a jihadi terrorist group was reported in October, 2002, when a boat containing explosives hit the French-flagged large crude carrier (VLCC) Limburg off Yemen, killing and injuring some members of the crew and badly damaging the vessel. Hence the threat of maritime terrorism has become an important component of counter-terrorism strategies. 

A two day Workshop to identify and assess the possible scenarios of maritime terrorism and to examine the prospects of regional and international maritime counter terrorism cooperation, was organised by the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi, on November 29-30, 2004. This Workshop, initiated by the International Terrorism Watch Project (ITWP) of the ORF, was a follow up to a Workshop on International Terrorism in South East Asia and its likely implications for South Asia organised by the ORF at New Delhi on April 28-29, 2004. It was attended by security experts, serving military officers, academics and researchers from South East Asia, South Asia, the Asia Pacific, US and Australia. Partial funding for this Workshop was received from the Asia Foundation, Washington DC. which was also represented at this Workshop by Mr. John Brandon, Director, International Relations.

Apart from papers devoted to each country perspective, the keynote addresses that preceded each session, looked at the role of the army, navy, air force, police and intelligence in maritime counter-terrorism. The critical evaluation of the Workshop by experts from Australia, the UK and the US not only brought out the strong points of the Workshop but also made valuable suggestions for the future which will go a long way in shaping the follow up action by the International Terrorism Watch Project of the ORF.

Some of the key points of the workshop are as follows:

  • The presentations effectively provided a wide regional perspective on maritime terrorism threats covering the entire Asian region including the Gulf of Aden through the Malacca Straits to Australia.

  • Data Analyses of Maritime terrorism and piracy provided by Captain Jayant Abhyankar of the International Maritime Bureau, London, in his presentations added value to all the papers that were presented.

  • The ORF could focus on linkages between terrorism and tourism industry and terrorism and the environment in future studies and research.
  • Managing sea lanes and choke points are important issues that need to be considered in maritime counter-terrorism.

  • The physical and psychological trauma of the ship crew after an act of piracy or maritime terrorism needs to be understood as an important human element in maritime counter terrorism.
  • The infrastructure of policy making with regard to maritime counter-terrorism has to be examined in the context of each states' capability to handle maritime threats.
  • Effective and efficient intelligence collection can help the states to prevent acts of maritime terrorism and their reaction capabilities in the event f a terrorist attack. Like terrorist groups, we need to develop laser sharp focus to effectively deal with terrorism.
  • Training of army, navy, air force, coast guard, police and intelligence personnel at all levels is important in counter terrorism operations. Counter terrorism modelling and terrorism capsule courses should be designed in a way that they impart practical knowledge of dealing with and reacting to a terrorist strike. 
  • It is important to do away with the ambiguities that exist while interpreting terms like piracy, terrorism and maritime terrorism. ORF could consider producing a short research paper on definitions to be circulated amongst the participants so that a consensus can be achieved on the terminology to be used for future reference.
  • It is also important to differentiate between acts of maritime terrorism and acts of maritime crime. Similar ambiguities should be removed with regard to transnational crimes and crimes committed in coastal waters, ports or harbours.
  • There is a need to prioritise the potential maritime terrorist targets for devising effective preventive physical security measures and facilitating crises management after the attacks.
  • Intelligence liaison and exchange should be improved by the concerned authorities at both the national and regional levels.
  • Regional intelligence coordination and cooperation should eventually lead to regional operational collaboration.
  • The future research areas should include the linkages between maritime crime and maritime terrorism, identifying terrorist groups that have the capabilities of launching maritime terrorist attacks, technology and WMD proliferation threats in maritime terrorism and the role of shipping and commercial companies in relation to maritime terrorism.
  • Risk analysis is important while studying the threats of maritime terrorism to distinguish between hype and reality.
  • The ORF's future interactions on maritime counter terrorism should include business people, particularly from the insurance and shipping industries and exporters in general.
  • The Container Security Initiative launched by the US, consisting of a data base profile and that can identify high risk cargo also needs a closer monitoring. There is a need to harness tools of technology to safeguard global maritime supply chains.
  • Compliance with US rules as well as rules by the International Maritime Organisation is creating delays in shipping and adding to the cost of the security staff and security related work. Effective compliance through regional initiatives can be looked into. Inter-regional cooperation should include codifying laws against transnational crimes. A regional maritime criminal code in this regard could be helpful.
  • Stringent visa regulations for crew members by some countries including the United States need to be addressed.
  • It is also important to associate China and other great powers in the region with regard to security on the high seas. The role of regional organisations like ASEAN, APEC and ARF also needs to be considered while building a case for maritime counter terrorism cooperation.

The Workshop succeeded in bringing together experts and policy makers on an issue that is of great importance to the strategic community. It marked the beginning of ORF's sustained engagement with maritime counter terrorism and paved the way for networking and exchange of information on a regular basis between individuals and think tanks and research organisations that were represented at this Workshop. 

Report Prepared by Swati Parashar, member of the staff of the International Terrorism Watch Project, Observer Research Foundation (ORF). She is based in New Delhi. E-mail address: [email protected]

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