Maritime security: Europe and beyond

The European Council has adopted the updated EU Maritime Security Strategy Action Plan, designed to tighten and improve its approach to maritime security including the introduction of regional approaches to hotspots including the Gulf of Guinea. With 70% of the EU’s outer border being coastline, there is key strategic value in ensuring that Europe’s seas and oceans are adequately protected. Looking beyond European waters, the EU has a vested interest in ensuring its goods are able to be transhipped securely around the globe.

Action Plan

The EU Maritime Security Strategy is underpinned by four key principles:

1. A regional approach to a global challenge

The EU recognises that its own economic development and position in the global market means its concerns for maritime security must reach beyond its own waters. Destabilized zones in the Horn of Africa or the Gulf of Guinea are of particular concern.

These issues are of great concern to EU based shipowners and insurers. The EU has therefore recognised that its role in maritime security reaches all corners of the globe. The EU as part of its global reach supports the African Union’s integrated Maritime Strategy and Indian Ocean Forum on Maritime Crime.

2. Protection of critical maritime infrastructure

The global approach is palpable within this action point. Operation Atlanta has been extended to December 2020 with a focus on the protection of vessels of the World Food Programme, monitoring fishing activities off the coast of Somalia and generally strengthening maritime security in the region. The EU has a heightened sense of risk around cyber threats. In particular, its key energy installations and operations at sea that may entail chemical and environmental threats should they become compromised. The EU has therefore encouraged further integration of security measures to provide it with the most robust practices to counteract threats to its maritime infrastructure.

3. Stronger collaboration between civilian and military

The EU’s holistic approach encompasses a desire to produce integrated programmes and utilise resources across both military and civilian operations. Collaboration between agencies will be crucial in executing the EU’s strategy, not least in areas such as the Common Information-Sharing Environment (CISE) and European Border and Coast Guard Agency. Challenges such as the “migrant crisis” from North Africa have necessitated greater levels of cooperation between EU member state agencies to address maritime security issues.

4. Innovative and holistic

The EU has recognised that maritime security must be viewed as a multi-faceted challenge, one which goes beyond terrorism and piracy to consider cyber, hybrid, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats.

The EU has sought to react innovatively to dilemmas it faces in its seas and oceans. For instance, Operation Sophia (whose core mission is to fight human trafficking and smuggling networks operating in the Mediterranean) is focussed on the EU’s wider goal of restoring security to the Libyan waters. Similarly, the CISE aims to give EU member states an integrated platform where authorities across the EU will share surveillance data needed for missions carried out by sea.

The UK’s Navy and NSMS have, to date, been the leading figures in the field of EU maritime security. However, following ongoing Brexit discussions, Spain has put itself at the front of the queue to take over the leadership of the EU’s key maritime missions (for example, Operation Atlanta).


Shipowners and insurers may take some level of comfort in the EU’s Action Plan to improve and develop its strategy on maritime security as its focus shifts to an integrated, collaborative and global approach. However, whether the EU is successful in implementing its aims of higher-level integration and data sharing to counteract maritime threats remains to be seen.

At a time of political volatility within Europe, member states may be reluctant to share sensitive data that relates to its maritime ventures. UK shipowners and insurers may, at present, face uncertainty about the role the UK will play, if any, in the EU’s maritime security strategy moving forwards.

Risks and threats evolve all the time, and this revised action plan allows us to anticipate better, plan better and react better.

Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.