Brexit: how the UK is preparing to secure its seas outside the EU

Scott Edwards, University of Bristol et Timothy Edmunds, University of Bristol

Four dinghies carrying 53 migrants who tried to cross the English Channel from France were intercepted by British and French authorities in early April. The crossings are a reminder of the importance of maritime security and safety to the UK.

Brexit has led to many uncertainties, including over the governance of the UK’s seas in the future. Withdrawal from EU regulations at the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31 2020 raises questions over how to face the difficult task of managing maritime risks which are currently managed alongside the EU.

Uncertainty has also spurred new government efforts by shining a light on the need to secure UK waters, something we’ve written about in a new report.

The UK faces rapidly evolving risks to its shipping lanes, fishing grounds and marine infrastructure. These risks include illegal fishing, human trafficking, organised crime such as smuggling, terrorism, and the potential for protests at sea.

Terrorist attacks could cause significant loss of life if targeted against ferries and cruise liners. Illegal fishing could affect the livelihoods of fishers and marine biodiversity, while other risks could have an impact on the wider economy in a context where 95% of Britain’s trade flows via the ocean.

These risks tend to interlink with each other in ways that are increasingly well documented in other regions of the world. In Somalia, for example, local fishers losing their stock as a result of illegal fishing have turned to piracy. What unintended consequences of new risks might appear in UK waters is still not fully understood.

Maritime security threats can also take place simultaneously. Without greater understanding of these risks, it’s difficult to know which should be prioritised.

Added complication of Brexit

These issues have been complicated by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. During the current transition period the UK manages its waters within a wider EU maritime governance framework and under EU regulations, as it did while it was an EU member. While the UK isn’t expected to cease all cooperation with the EU when this comes to an end, it will be required to depend more on national enforcement and regulations.

This shift is most visible in the fisheries sector. As part of the EU, British fisheries were managed under the Common Fisheries Policy meaning both UK and EU fishing boats had access to quotas in UK waters. Such arrangements are likely to come to an end with the UK choosing to regulate its own waters.

UK ports are also a hotspot for change as they seem likely to withdraw from EU port legislation. This could lead to new national regulatory challenges such as a need to balance harmonisation with the EU with the pursual of British priorities like the creation of freeports, aimed to give British trade a competitive edge.

Taking sole responsibility is made difficult by other complicating factors. In the UK, different risks are managed by different government agencies, with problems of jurisdictional overlap.

Depending where it takes place, multiple agencies could be involved in illegal fishing, for example. This could include the Marine Management Organisation, Marine Scotland, and the Royal Navy’s Fishery Protection Squadron. Other agencies may contribute boats or intelligence, such as the National Maritime Information Centre, Border Force and the National Crime Agency.

Yet, a common understanding of the threats and consistent communication between departments is lacking in some areas. This is more of a problem for devolved issues such as fisheries, which add even more authorities, departments and agencies to the picture. The relationships between these different organisations are likely to be further tested by the challenges posed by Brexit.

Opportunity for reform

But Brexit also offers the UK an opportunity to improve its maritime security. The leak of Operation Yellowhammer in 2019 raised the public profile of maritime issues such as delayed freight in ports, the illegal entry of EU fishing boats into UK waters and potential clashes between fishing vessels. This came at a time where there were high profile landings of illegal migrants along the south coast of the UK, while Operation Yellowhammer warned of stretched maritime enforcement capabilities.

The UK has started off well. In 2019, the UK government created the Joint Maritime Security Centre (JMSC) to coordinate all the different agencies involved and foster interaction between them. The JMSC conducted a joint UK maritime security exercise at the end of 2019, highlighting how coordination can improve enforcement. It is also preparing a new UK maritime security strategy.

Interactions between the different government agencies involved in managing the risks to the UK seas need to become more frequent and overcome existing divides to create habits of cooperation and communication. Other groups such as fishing communities need to be included in deliberations. Transparency and information sharing in the process of drafting a new maritime security strategy can help to identify common goals, encourage involvement, and establish a shared basis for action.

A review of resources would also be worthwhile to identify the means the UK has to secure its waters, what gaps exist, and how these means can best be shared.The Conversation

Scott Edwards, Research Associate, University of Bristol et Timothy Edmunds, Professor of International Security at University of Bristol and Director of the Centre for Global Insecurity, University of Bristol

Cet article est republié à partir de The Conversation sous licence Creative Commons. Lire l’article original.

New Coalition In Gulf May Not Fare As Well As Old One – Analysis

Persian Gulf/SoH


Operational Sentinel patrols the Strait of Hormuz, yet regional rivalries and the international coalition’s makeup could escalate tensions.

By Gregory Clough and Morgan D. Bazilian*

Renewed conflict in the Strait of Hormuz pushed the United States to establish an international coalition for maritime security to ensure safe passage of shipping traffic and guarding against further disruption in oil supplies. While such security coalitions have been successful in the past, applying the same approach in the Middle East may not improve conditions and may even exacerbate tensions.

To continue reading, please click here.


Plymouth to host maritime cyber security research facility

Sam Chambers

A new research facility designed to address the key cyber security challenges facing the shipping industry is being established at the University of Plymouth.

The £3m Cyber-SHIP Lab, supported by funding from Research England, part of UK Research and Innovation, and industry, will bring together a host of connected maritime systems currently found on an actual ship’s bridge.

To continue reading, please click here.


High Court: “Pirate Attack” was Attempted Fraud

In a ruling issued Monday, the High Court of London ruled that the tanker Brillante Virtuoso was irreparably damaged not by pirates, as her owner and banker claimed, but by a group of conspirators. Justice Nigel Teare found that the owner’s claims of piracy were improbable, and he reached the “firm conclusion” that the attackers intended to destroy the vessel, that they had the assistance of the master and chief engineer as they went about the task, and that the owner orchestrated the scheme in order to defraud his insurer. 

On July 6, 2011, Brillante Virtuoso was drifting off Aden, awaiting a team of unarmed security contractors before transiting Bab el-Mandeb. A small boat approached carrying seven masked, armed men. The men informed the crew that they were “security,” and they came aboard with the master’s permission. (The disputants in the case agreed that the boarding party’s members were likely current or former Yemeni Coast Guard or Navy servicemenbers.) They ordered the crew to the day room, and escorted the master to the bridge and the chief engineer to the engine room. 

To continue reading, please click here.


Sailors from USS Philippine Sea rescue the crew of the Brillante Virtuoso

US eyes 55-ship surveillance mission off Iran in Nov.: source

Persian Gulf/SoH

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) — U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is planning to form an international maritime surveillance mission involving 55 vessels in a key waterway off Iran in November, a source familiar with the plan said Thursday.

The plan came to light amid heightened tensions between the United States and Iran following recent attacks on major oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, an incident Washington has blamed on Tehran.

To continue reading, please click here.


Saudi Arabia joins maritime protection mission: state news agency

Persian Gulf/SoH

CAIRO (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia has joined an international maritime mission to protect commercial shipping in the Strait of Hormuz and other areas, Saudi state media reported on Wednesday, citing an official source in the defense ministry.

The ​​operation area for the International Maritime Security Construct covers the Strait of Hormuz, Bab al-Mandab, the Sea of ​​Oman and the Arabian Gulf, the report said.

To continue reading, please click here.


Iranian targeting of shipping in the Arabian Gulf ‘changes the game’ by raising risks to new levels

Insurance and shipping leaders said specific targeting of UK and US crew by Iran has left the industry to grapple with escalating tensions between Tehran and the West.

Nick Busvine, a partner at the strategic intelligence firm Herminius, told The National the drive from Tehran to take British and American hostages while targeting commercial shipping in the Arabian Gulf “changes the game” for the insurance industry.

To continue reading, please click here.


Iran tanker seizure: Hunt seeks European help on Gulf shipping

The foreign secretary has repeated his call for the release of a British-flagged ship and its crew detained in the Gulf by the Iranian military.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard captured the Stena Impero and its 23 crew members in the Gulf on Friday.

Jeremy Hunt told MPs it was an act of “state piracy”.

Mr Hunt said the UK would develop a maritime protection mission with other European nations to allow ships to pass through the area safely.

The foreign secretary secured support for the initiative from both French and German foreign ministers on the phone on Sunday evening, the BBC has been told.

Addressing the Commons after a meeting of the government’s emergency Cobra committee, Mr Hunt said he spoke with a “heavy heart” but if Iran continued to act as it had, it would have to accept a “larger Western military presence” along its coastline.

The seizure of the Stena Impero in the key shipping route of the Strait of Hormuz came after Tehran said the vessel violated international maritime rules.

Iran’s state-run news agency said the tanker was captured after it collided with a fishing boat and failed to respond to calls from the smaller craft.

Mr Hunt said the ship was illegally seized in Omani waters and forced to sail into Bandar Abbas port in Iran, where it remains.

Although the crew and owners are not British, the Stena Impero carries the British flag so the UK owes protection to the vessel, maritime analysts said.

The seizure was the latest in a string of acts leading to escalating tensions between Iran and the UK and US.

Earlier this month Royal Marines helped to seize tanker Grace 1 off Gibraltar, because of evidence it was carrying Iranian oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions.

Mr Hunt said that vessel was detained legally, but Iran said it was “piracy” and threatened to seize a British oil tanker in retaliation.

In a statement to MPs in the Commons, Mr Hunt said the UK would seek to create a European-led mission to ensure safe passage of international vessels in the Gulf.

“Freedom of navigation is a vital interest of every nation,” he said.

US Central Command said it was developing a multinational maritime effort in response to the situation.

But the UK’s protection mission would not include the US because, Mr Hunt insisted, Britain was not part of President Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure” on Tehran.

The initiative would build on existing structures in the region such as the US Navy-led Combined Task Force 150, the BBC has learned.

Instead of focusing on tackling terrorism and the illegal drugs trade like the Combined Task Force 150, the new scheme would have a mandate to ensure freedom of navigation of international ships, the Foreign Office explained.

The mission would be implemented “as quickly as possible” but in the meantime the destroyer HMS Duncan has been sent to help keep British ships and crews safe in the region, Mr Hunt told the Commons.

Mr Hunt said the UK had sought to de-escalate the situation but there would be “no compromise” on freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz.

Bob Sanguinetti, CEO of the UK Chamber of Shipping, welcomed the announcement of the mission but said it was “imperative” the government protected British-flagged ships in the Gulf in the meantime.

Mr Hunt encouraged commercial shipping companies in the region to follow advice issued by the Department for Transport to help reduce “risks of piracy”, because it was “not possible for the Royal Navy to provide escorts for every single ship”.


Threat level raised to ‘critical’ for UK ships in Iranian waters

The UK has raised the threat to British shipping in Iranian waters in the Gulf to the highest level – where the risk of attack is “critical”.

The step was taken on Tuesday, amid growing tensions in the region.

On Wednesday, Iranian boats tried to impede a British oil tanker in the region – before being driven off by a Royal Navy ship, the MoD said.

Iran had threatened to retaliate for the seizure of one of its own tankers, but denied any attempted seizure.

The Department for Transport said it regularly provided security advice to UK ships in high-risk areas.

The threat level means British ships are advised not to enter Iranian waters, BBC defence correspondent Jonathan Beale said.

Boats believed to belong to Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) approached the British Heritage tanker and tried to bring it to a halt as it was moving out of the Gulf into the Strait of Hormuz.

HMS Montrose, a British frigate shadowing the BP-owned tanker, was forced to move between the three boats and the ship, a Ministry of Defence spokesman said.

He described the Iranians’ actions as “contrary to international law”.

Guns on HMS Montrose were trained on the Iranian boats as they were ordered to back off, US media reported. The boats heeded the warning and no shots were fired.

Last week, British Royal Marines helped the authorities in Gibraltar seize an Iranian tanker because of evidence it was carrying oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions.

A spokesman for the Royal Gibraltar Police said they had arrested the captain and chief officer of the Iranian tanker on Thursday, on suspicion of breaching EU sanctions, but neither had been charged.

The BBC has been told British Heritage was near the island of Abu Musa when it was approached by the Iranian boats.

Although Abu Musa is in disputed territorial waters, HMS Montrose remained in international waters throughout.

Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt said the government was concerned by the incident and urged the Iranian authorities to “de-escalate the situation”.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt added the UK would monitor the situation “very carefully”.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s official spokesman said the government was “committed to maintaining freedom of navigation in accordance with international law”.

A spokesperson for the US State Department condemned Iran’s actions and said that Washington would continue to work closely with the UK.

Morgan Ortagus said: “We commend the actions of the Royal Navy in ensuring freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce through this critically important waterway.”

Commander of the US Fifth Fleet Vice Adm Jim Malloy described the incident as “unlawful harassment” and said the fleet would continue to work closely with the Royal Navy to defend “the free flow of commerce”.

What does Iran say?

The navy of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard Corps has denied claims it tried to seize the tanker, Iranian news agencies reported. IRGC’s navy said there had been no confrontation with any foreign vessels in the past 24 hours.

Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the UK made the claims “for creating tension”.

“These claims have no value,” Mr Zarif added, according to the Fars news agency.

Why are UK-Iran tensions escalating?

The relationship between the UK and Iran has become increasingly strained, after Britain said the Iranian regime was “almost certainly” responsible for the attacks on two oil tankers in June.

Tensions grew after the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker by authorities in Gibraltar, assisted by British Royal Marines.

On Thursday an Iranian official told the BBC the seizure was “unnecessary and non-constructive escalation by the UK” and called for the tanker, Grace 1, to be released.

An Iranian official previously said a British oil tanker should be seized if Grace 1 was not released.

On Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the UK “scared” and “hopeless” for using Royal Navy warships to shadow another British tanker in the Gulf.

“You, Britain, are the initiator of insecurity and you will realise the consequences later,” Mr Rouhani said.

The Royal Navy has a frigate, four minehunters and a Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ship already stationed in a permanent Naval Support Facility in the region, at Mina Salman in Bahrain.

This is enough to provide reassurance, but probably not to deal with a crisis, BBC defence correspondent Jonathan Beale said.

Ministers would now have to consider sending another Royal Navy ship to the region – but this could further escalate tensions with Iran, our correspondent said.

Foreign Office officials said they were keeping the UK’s military posture in the region under constant review but insisted they did not want to see tensions escalate.


NIMASA partners USA, UK on ship registry

The Director-General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dakuku Peterside, said the agency is partnering with foreign ship registry to reposition the Nigerian Ship Registry (NSR).

Peterside disclosed this in an interview with News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Monday in Abuja.

“We are also reforming the Nigeria Ship Registration Office. For a very long time the Nigeria ship registry has not been very competitive, so we are developing a lot of partnerships.”

To continue reading, please click here.