Covid-19 and the threat to maritime and port security

As the UK becomes the latest country to adopt a policy of restricted movement for its citizens, following (at least two metres behind) France, Spain and Italy in Europe, it’s important that we do not lose sight of the risks this presents.

Criminals and non-state threat actors do not necessarily follow health warnings and lockdown measures. If anything, they thrive in an environment like that. One example would be during WWII in the UK, where the German bombing of London turned the city into a criminals’ playground. During the four months of the London Blitz from September to December 1941, a total of 4,584 cases of looting were heard by the Old Bailey court, for example.

Organised crime and the black market flourished, and we should expect something similar to occur in maritime crime hot spots and High Risk Areas.

Over the weekend, seven crew were kidnapped in the Gulf of Guinea, which underlines the risk. In the coming weeks, we should expect further incidents and, should food and energy supply lines be further affected by the pandemic, port and terminal security should be stepped up to mitigate any risk at ports from criminal gangs. It is likely that oil theft will increase in the Delta, although the Nigerian Navy is already making efforts to mitigate this.

In the Indian Ocean, the risks presented by Somali pirates remain low, but still present. An increase in Covid-19 cases in the country could potentially lead to further economic issues which will then drive criminals on to the water to look for ‘easy’ money. Combine this with the current issues being experienced by maritime security companies trying to embark armed security teams and it’s easy to see just how badly wrong things could go.

Organised criminal gangs will be aware that regional and international naval forces will have difficulties with crew rotations, bunkering etc. and may choose to exploit the situation by increasing smuggling operations in the Arabian Sea.

In Yemen, Houthi rebels, already making their presence felt in recent weeks with SVBIEDs (boat bombs), may attempt to disrupt crucial shipping lanes in order to focus world attention on their plight.

It’s a long list of maybes. But mitigation and prevention should be a paramount concern for anyone involved in maritime security.

Finally, thank you all for continuing to support the blog. We’ve had a sharp increase in readers from around the world, and I appreciate your support, even if I’m not in a position to earn any money from this (and that would be rather useful at the moment, as I’ve also lost earnings due to the virus).

Keep well, keep apart and stay safe.

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