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UK Unveils New Maritime Strategy to Tackle Emerging Threats

UK maritime strategy
Seabed mapping is among the elements of the strategy to manage risks (UK Hydrographic Office image)

Published Aug 15, 2022 10:33 AM by The Maritime Executive

The United Kingdom has unveiled a new maritime security strategy that is designed to respond to emerging risks that threaten the future of the industry. The new strategy redefines maritime security as upholding laws, regulations and norms to deliver a free, fair and open maritime domain, thus recognizing illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and environmental damage to the country’s seas as a maritime security concern.

The UK government reports the five-year new strategy will enhance maritime capabilities in technology, innovation, and cyber security and also reduce environmental damage, a development that is aimed at securing the country’s position as a world-leading maritime nation.

The strategy is however silent on cost implications, with the government stating that it intends to work with the shipping industry, academia, international partners, and allies in the delivery of the outward-focused strategy through increased information sharing partnerships to increase the visibility of threats to the global maritime domain.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that the strategy sets out the guiding principles for the government’s approach to managing maritime threats and risks both at home and around the world, including leveraging the UK’s world-leading seabed mapping community and tackling illegal fishing and polluting activities at sea.

As part of the initiative, he announced the establishment of the UK Centre for Seabed Mapping (UK CSM) which seeks to enable the UK’s seabed mapping sector to collaborate to collect more and better data to enhance the country’s maritime security knowledge. The country reckons that seabed mapping provides the foundation dataset that underpins almost every sector in the maritime domain, including maritime trade, environmental and resource management, shipping operations, and national security and infrastructure within the industry.

“Our new maritime security strategy paves the way for both government and industry to provide the support needed to tackle new and emerging threats and further cement the UK’s position as a world leader in maritime security,” said Shapps.

The UK maritime sector includes port facilities, the shipping fleet, maritime business services, engineering, and the leisure marine sector. A report produced by the Centre for Economics and Business Research commissioned by Maritime UK, a trade body for the maritime industry, shows the maritime industry is a major cog of the UK’s economy after contributing $140.7 billion in 2019, 35 percent higher than 2010. The sector supported one million jobs and generated $6.3 billion in tax revenues.

Despite its importance to the country’s economy, the sector is grappling with emerging challenges including capacity constraints, rising costs, pressure to decarbonize, threats of cyber-attacks and blue crimes including piracy, smuggling, and IUU fishing.

To respond to these challenges and position the industry for the future, the new maritime strategy will focus on five strategic objectives anchored on homeland protection in terms of delivering the world’s most effective maritime security framework for UK borders, ports, and infrastructure and responding to threats by taking a whole system approach to bring world-leading capabilities and expertise to respond to new, emerging threats.

Other objectives are ensuring prosperity in terms of guaranteeing the security of international shipping, the unimpeded transmission of goods, information, and energy to support continued global development and economic prosperity, championing global maritime security underpinned by freedom of navigation and the international order, and supporting a secure, resilient ocean by tackling security threats and breaches of regulations that impact on a clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically-diverse maritime environment.  

“UK ports work closely with government and law enforcement to facilitate nearly half a billion tonnes of trade and tens of millions of passengers every year, whilst at the same time bearing down on threats to our collective safety and security. We look forward to strengthening that relationship as we help to deliver on these strategic objectives,” noted Mark Simmonds, British Ports Association, Director of Policy and External Affairs.

He added that the new UK CSM is a major step forward for the maritime sector because it will help in better understanding of the UK seabed and be the foundation for numerous benefits, including more informed management of the marine environment.