What Is Maritime Security?

Post By: Ryan King On: 10-06-2024 - Military

Maritime security refers to the security measures taken to protect vessels crossing vast distances in the ocean – whether it’s securing cargo, military operations or transport. 

Ships and military vessels face security risks at sea from external attacks and extreme weather conditions. External threats include piracy, illegal trade, human trafficking, terrorism and hazards caused by system failures. 

Vessels out at sea require maritime security to counter external and onboard threats. These threats might not always be malicious, but each risk to maritime security needs its own counter-defence strategy.

Security Risks

Securing a ship for its journey at sea requires supervision and proactive safety measures to reduce security threats and protect those on board from accidents. Marine traffic across the ocean is vast, making it impossible to track all shipments. For this reason, safety officers and the whole crew need to be aware of vulnerabilities out at sea. 

Lack of awareness puts ships at risk of breaking laws in some territorial waters. It can also land the ship in dangerous locations, leading to severe financial losses and environmental hazards. In extreme cases, it can also lead to the loss of lives. 

The following are some of the main maritime threats faced by the shipping industry:


Pirates target vessels for financial or political reasons. According to the BBC, 2023 saw an increase in the number of attacks on cargo ships in the Red Sea.

Maritime Security

Protecting against piracy requires supervisors and the crew to be aware of how pirates attack. For example, they tend to use small, fast boats to approach ships undetected. Employing security on board may also be necessary, especially if the ship is navigating a high-risk area like the Gulf of Aden. Captains should know the signs of piracy to watch for and reach out to coastguards to alert them of suspicious activity.

Trespassing And Terrorism

Trespassing refers to the criminal act of breaching territorial waters to carry out illegal trade, illegal immigration and the smuggling of illegal goods. Criminals exploit the vastness of the oceans to find corridors to move illegal materials and plot attacks undetected. 

Criminal activity at sea affects the security of coastguards and impacts treaties between countries, disrupting transport routes. Criminals are always looking for new methods to exploit security, so international efforts to safeguard sea channels, ports and shorelines are ongoing.

Illegal Maritime Trade And Human Trafficking 

The breadth of international trade means it’s impossible to check all mass cargo shipments as they cross all waters. This leaves room for illegal activities to take place, including the trafficking of illegal arms, drugs, endangered animals and stolen artefacts. 

Human trafficking has far-reaching consequences, putting lives at risk and weakening international borders. Illegal trade and smuggling across borders is a constant challenge requiring the cooperation of nations to secure their territories.

Damage To The Environment 

Attacks on ships carrying hazardous materials can lead to substances like hazardous waste, oil and other toxic materials contaminating the ocean and killing wildlife. 

Security Strategies 

Maritime security strategies use preventative tactics to address threats at sea, focusing on early detection and coordinated efforts to secure the safety of shipments and crew members. These security strategies include the following:

Shipment Inspections 

Screening shipments for suspicious cargo can detect security breaches early on and ensure the crew abides by security practices.

Port Security

Ensuring security measures are followed when the ship docks and leaves ports and transit terminals is critical in detecting terrorist threats and guarding supply chains. 

Reporting On Security Incidents

Reporting suspicious activity to coastguards aids authorities in investigating activity in a specific area. They can then put out warnings to other ships in the vicinity.

Maritime Security

Efficient Security Training

Security training ensures the crew knows what to look for and doesn’t overlook critical signs that they may be at risk. It means they’ll know how to maintain regular security practices and respond to emergencies. Security officers should also encourage crew members to remain vigilant when crossing certain regions of water to report suspicious boats in the area.

Maintaining Equipment

Security equipment should be in proper working order for efficient performance. A compliance system and escalation matrix should be in place, which details essential security practices and procedures for crew members.

Handling Cargo

Overseeing the handling of cargo when it’s loaded and unloaded from the ship is an essential security measure. This step is critical to ensure cargo has been properly inspected and accounted for.

Background Checks

All crew members should undergo a background check to clear them for work aboard the ship. Crew handling precious cargo may need to undergo additional screening to ensure that security measures are upheld.

Supporting Crew

Being out at sea for stretches of time, especially during hazardous weather, can take its toll on crew members. Supervisors should encourage trust and collaboration to make sure security is upheld, while allowing personnel to get adequate rest.

The Importance Of Maritime Security 

As the maritime industry grows, increasing international logistics, the threats facing vessels at sea have not changed. But they have become more sophisticated. Threats from piracy, terrorism, illegal trade or extreme weather are just some of the challenges faced by the shipping industry. Countering these threats needs a vigilant approach to security and an awareness of geo-political developments to navigate waters securely. 

Security onboard is essential, from screening cargo to ensuring the crew is following security measures. However, onboard security is not enough to prevent all cases of illegal trade across the seas. For this reason, maritime security is an international effort requiring the coordination of information and patrols to identify threats before they escalate.

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