Book Review: Contemporary Piracy and Maritime Terrorism
Book written by Martin N. Murphy
Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (August 17, 2007)
Do piracy and maritime terrorism, individually or together, present a threat to international security, and what relationship if any exists between them?
Piracy may be a marginal problem in itself, but the connections between organized piracy and wider criminal networks and corruption on land make it an element of a phenomenon that can have a weakening effect on states and a destabilizing one on the regions in which it is found. Furthermore, it is also an aspect of a broader problem of disorder at sea that, exacerbated by the increasing pressure on littoral waters from growing numbers of people and organizations seeking to exploit maritime resources, encourages maritime criminality and gives insurgents and terrorists the freedom to operate. In this context, maritime terrorism, though currently only a low-level threat, has the potential to spread and become more effective in the event of political change on land. It is only by addressing the issue of generalized maritime disorder that the problems of piracy and maritime terrorism may be controlled in the long term.
Book reviewed by David Osler
SIR Alan West — former First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff, now security minister — is in no doubt that maritime terrorism is “a clear and present danger” that could “potentially cripple global trade and have grave knock-on effects on developed economies”.
Up to a point, Sir Alan. A cool-headed new study of the twin problems of maritime terrorism and traditional piracy argues that it is important not to over-exaggerate the extent of either.
Martin Murphy’s short work Contemporary Piracy and Maritime Terrorism: the Threat to International Security works well as a summary of the latest developments and the state of expert opinion on these issues, based on both academic and media sources. Piracy, he maintains, is essentially a localised problem.
It’s a nasty headache where it occurs, but its real effects on world trade and the movement of people are negligible.
Truth be told, losses are so low that there is little incentive for the shipping industries even to make a serious collective effort to tackle it. So long as there are littoral states where lawlessness prevails, there will be piracy.
Nor is maritime terrorism a major threat, with occurrences few and far between. This is probably because it is not nearly so attractive to militants and militias as is widely supposed. Murphy reels off a list of why this should be so.
Terrorists could get more bang for the buck (quite literally) in attacking oil and gas terminals or refineries than by turning their attentions to tankers. Cruise ships, with many internal structural subdivisions, are quite hard to sink. Liquefied natural gas is actually difficult to ignite, while the terrorist potential of liquefied petroleum gas is limited by the small quantities in which it is carried.
As for the Tom Clancy-style nuke-in-a-shipping-container scenario, Murphy argues that boxes are “frequently misplaced, stolen, delayed, dropped, broken open, left out in the sun, drenched with seawater, lost overboard and set on fire”.
Possession of a working nuclear device would be a high prize for a non-state actor. Would they really want to commit it to the tender mercies of contemporary container shipping?
In short, Murphy’s outlook is that it is essential to get both brands of violence at sea in perspective.
That perspective should be a broader problem that Murphy dubs “maritime disorder”, best tackled by that combination of surveillance of activities at sea and intelligence-gathering, as brought together in the concept of Maritime Domain Awareness developed by the US Coast Guard.
This can be regarded as an insurance policy for the future. As the author points out, circumstances can change. It is necessary to be prepared for situations in which the problem becomes more acute.
In all, both Murphy’s analysis and the conclusion are hard to fault, making this recommended reading for maritime security professionals.
Contemporary Piracy and Maritime Terrorism: the threat to international security by Martin N Murphy is published by Routledge and the International Institute for Strategic Studies.