Deterring Maritime Crime, Piracy and Terrorism in the Caribbean:
A Rethink of Maritime Policing, Coastal Guarding and the Role of ‘Joined –up’ Intelligence.
The Caribbean is one seaway and joint policing of its shared waterways, coupled with regional information sharing is an absolute requirement in the age that we find our selves in. It would be impossible to consider joint response in the absence of any of the above. In order to accomplish this there must be a radical rethink to the doctrine and methodology behind current operations by regional law enforcement.
The regional defence and police units have traditionally focused their skills and equipment acquisition programs on the basis that Search and Rescue and littoral patrols along their respective coast lines is their mainstay.
The maritime Law Enforcement fraternity in countries such as Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados is well trained, able and resourceful and it is to their credit that they have held the forces of terrorism and maritime organised crime at bay thus far. A major consideration however is that as with the rest of the Caribbean, the region’s forces are well trained in drug interdiction and small craft arrest.
The current world environment urgently demands a regional maritime defence rethink.
Physically and technologically policing respective EEZ‘s and territorial waters is increasingly important and not just for the fishery protection role that EEZ patrols are predicated upon. Once illegal cargo reaches the shoreline it’s too late to start thinking about stopping it.
This is especially so given recent reports emanating from the US Government Department of State’s International Narcotics Control Strategy report and the OAS Western Hemispheric Drug Transit Study Country Reports. In both texts commercial containerized cargo has been highlighted as being significantly and primarily responsible for drug transhipment to Europe and the US.
While the US has advocated SAFEPORT as a new law that covers its containerized security requirements , the Caribbean does not benefit from those stringent requirements nor do the countries which receive illegally containerized contraband, benefit from having 100% point of origin scanning legislation in place. Even if it was in place affording the scanners is not at the top of the list of priorities of the majority of countries in the Caribbean archipelagic chain.
Small Craft Littoral transhipment vs. Large Vessel Transit and Offshore Asset Incident Response
Given the increasingly acknowledged trend that narcotic and other illegal substances are transported via the seaways between the islands to the European and US continents via container then it would seem that the predilection in the region to focus on small craft transhipment and small craft delivery is clearly displaced in proportion to what is actually circulating via other transhipment means. It would appear given this news that we are only stopping the very, very TIP of the proverbial iceberg using current methodology.
This paper seeks to establish that the role of the maritime policing units should expand further from the traditional role currently in operation to include routine search or inspection of cruise, cargo and energy transport vessels and regular patrols and visits to offshore energy assets.
This does not involve stopping and delaying vessels in their routine transits necessarily but it does involve training teams in the special skills required to do these activities should the day arise when an incident is unfolding. Visible deterrent is deterrent enough. We don’t develop expertise in doing a task successfully by doing it once when the world’s eyes are on us and a live incident is unfolding.
Almost all the regional defence and maritime police forces think exclusively in terms of littoral drug interdiction operations. Even with Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad: the three more established countries with Maritime defence presence of note there is, at best only limited consideration of blue water capability beyond the shoreline. As a consequence of this there is limited if any ability to RESPOND to Large vessel transit threats , which, on balance have a far greater potential to disrupt the economies and well being of the region.
While there are large craft acquisition orders in process particularly in Trinidad- what these ships are used for, who uses them and their role in a multi-jurisdictional incident need to be clearly thought out. Recent news that these acquisitions have been cancelled signals a step back in time to the dark ages for the region’s security.
In the recent past the levels of co-operation achieved with the assistance of the US in particular were commendable. Today, however, should an incident occur-the US viewing the region via ROTHR and other technology, and the co-ordination of all the assets put together from JIATF will not assist the ability of the local maritime defence forces to RESPOND in a timely manner to either intelligence or an incident, in their water, particularly if it falls outside the two mile zone which local maritime policing units predominantly inhabit. Seeing and knowing about a potential incident will not address the problem of dealing with it.
Currently there is no regional joint coastal patrol ability or indeed any joined up regional coastal surveillance. One or two or three countries covering their coastal shoreline by radar does not secure a region of twenty plus countries in a shared transit passage. Seeing the threat does not translate to responding to the threat.
The question remains: have the regions’ maritime defence and policing bodies hardened their response capability? The question involves joint and multi jurisdictional input and action teams.
The key questions to be addressed for an Offshore EEZ event or offshore asset incident with the potential to affect more than one country in the chain include:
1. How do we get there?
2. Can we get there quickly?
3. Do we have the right equipment?
4. What do we do when we get there?
5. What do we need once there?
6. Can we deal with this incident?
7. Have we trained for this incident?
8. What do we know about this incident?
9. Whose responsibility is it to give us this information?
10. Who do we report to?
11. Whose responsibility is this?
These considerations are hard enough within one unit but in a multi-national context the challenge is immense.
Regional Information Sharing and its Role in Preparing Response Protocols
In Trinidad and Tobago the Joint Operations Command Centre set up in the late 90s and its modern day successors have been spearheading the fight against maritime crime, narcotic interdiction and arms smuggling and the ethos of information sharing and joint operations promoted by the Centre was a radical new departure in intelligence gathering and operations in the region.
New systems are currently being put in place to ensure that intelligence is focused and operations driven. Intelligence fusion is coming of age in the region with the very real and commendable prospect of meaningful, hard intelligence sharing but without appropriate RESPONSE the end result of good intelligence becomes the same as no intelligence.
The sudden increase in crime statistics in the last two years, fed in part by a process of repatriation and rendition of criminals by the US to the region has necessitated a fast learning curve and created new and complex challenges which the established and newer law enforcement agencies have had to meet head on.
While actionable intelligence is critical what is more vital is the REAL sharing of regional information with joint intelligence being fed to bluewater capable marine defence mechanisms and assets so that interdiction occurs long before they reach the low water mark.
Given the realities of the world we live in, consideration has to be given to the co-ordination and communication issues that actioning good regional joint intelligence product requires. Moving beyond the requirements of drug interdiction and the role played by continent destined containerised cargo; the real threat of an incident involving an LNG, LPG, oil tanker or cruise ship in the region requires attention. The effects of spill, collision, explosion, grounding or terrorist attack have disastrous potential for the region.
In a multi-national or multi-agency response scenario pre-determined, agreed command and control functions would be vital to the resolution of an incident. Seeing the incident in Key West, Virginia, Netherlands Antilles or in Trinidad will be of absolutely no assistance if we are unable to get there and deal with it in a timely organised, pre planned co-ordinated manner.
Offshore Response Realities
The recent events in the North Sea involving an accommodation oil platform Safe Scandinavia brings to mind the realities involved in appropriate and timely response. After four and a half hours, using 16 helicopters only one fifth of the platform was evacuated. With the Britannia platform shut, one of the biggest gas fields in the North Sea was closed down.
The evacuation cost alone has been put at 1million UK pounds. Timely and appropriate response to a similar incident in the Caribbean, hoax or not could not even be entertained. The mission critical equipment and assets simply do not exist. The knock on financial effect, hoax or not, would be immense.
Such news is not good news to the 365 rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas in Latin America and the Caribbean in January 2008. These rigs are broken down into two categories – 288 rigs are exploring for crude oil and 72 for natural gas. An incident along this chain could potentially affect many of these.
Is the region equipped with specialist energy security fast reaction teams? Does the region have cruise ship fast response teams drilled in confined space, high contact density operations? Do we have practised platform and chemical tanker boarding specialists?
Rethinking offshore asset protection in the region.
Unlike other seaways and with the single exception of the Malacca Straits an incident in the sea lanes of the Caribbean would impact upon a large number of sovereign countries located in the archipelago. Over twenty countries are located in close quarters, along the main shipping routes. The jurisdictional issues alone would cripple a response if not agreed in advance.
Contingency planning and regional drilling for counter action teams for cruise ships and rapid response offshore energy asset incident teams should be a priority in the region. Currently, it is not.
To this end intelligence led planning that is multi-national in its origination and regionally relevant is vital in strategic response preparation for incidents that are potentially multi-national in scale.
The objective therefore is an understanding of the potential threat faced by the region in question.
A database of reported attacks or suspicious activity with easy access to shipping or the sea going fraternity is the first step.
Locations and positions of suspicious vessels should be broadcast via bulletin board or marine guidance notices from one co-ordination fusion centre similar to the office of naval intelligence in the US and the IMB Internationally.
Contingency planning for identified bottlenecks and hot spots. A compilation of internationally current reports on types of events, methods, weapons, and boat descriptions should be developed and regularly monitored against suspicious activity in the region.
This information should be shared on a regional basis and cross referenced regularly. One man’s missing ‘wanted vessel’ is another man’s new harbour arrival.
EEZ Guard ship duties should be part of the regular operational procedures of the maritime authorities in the region and extra vigilance along coast lines coupled with moving security cordons around vessels must be enforced during their transit into and out of jurisdictions. This can only be effectively carried out with appropriate swift and well positioned blue water assets which are owned and operated by maritime agencies in the region.
Littoral and blue water EEZ patrol assets should regularly work along side each other. Regular secondments to regional units spread expertise and experience and broadens the knowledge of individual officers. Regular regionally focused meetings and outreach engagement and briefings to the shipping community encourages easy communication and intelligence gathering for law enforcement.
Special handover radar procedures and joint jurisdictional crisis teams should be established to deal with an incident as a hijacked LNG tanker or cruise ship will affect any number of nations along its route.
Co-ordination, communication and joint tracking coupled with joint training and operational exercises will ensure that ships, maritime crews, cruise ship manifests and cargos are effectively monitored as they transit the Caribbean. Where there is a potential threat in the waterway this information can be communicated up the chain and to vessels in the area in a timely manner but particularly as it leaves and enters one jurisdiction from another.
Some of these measures are mandated by the ISPS code but implementation of monitoring centres and joint regional responses need planning and a pro-active stance by the maritime policing and naval presence in the region.
These measures should not be considered expensive distractions from the regular
Anti –narcotics and SAR role of the units in question but should be viewed for what they are: Appropriate planning and functional, practiced, operational structures for effective response to an incident in the regional waterways given the complex nature of the EEZ responsibilities in the Caribbean. Drug interdiction along a shoreline alone will not protect national interests. Small interceptors are simply inadequate when it comes to dealing with the maritime criminal activity offshore.
We all know the story of the unclaimed container of lemons in a US port a few years ago …it took 40 agencies to get involved before they could open the container to check what was in it. 40 national agencies took one week talking to one another before they dealt with one container. Fortunately it just contained lemons.
How long would it take 20 countries and all their agencies to talk to one another to deal with a hijacked cruise ship or LNG tanker transiting midway between St Lucia, Barbados, St Vincent, Grenada and Tobago? What kind of immediate pre-co-ordinated, multi-national response could be possible?
The basic rule for preparedness applies: The more unlikely the event, the softer the target, the more attractive the potential atrocity and or disastrous consequences of planned attack, human error, mis hap or natural disaster. The incident’s occurrence is often out of our control all we can do is be prepared and practiced just in case.
Awareness, and readiness coupled with deterrence and visibility may be the only effective weapons we have against maritime criminals, pirates, terrorists and accidents of nature. The ISPS code will go a long way to ensure that these are implemented and yet it is still not nearly enough as only a radical sea change in the way the region thinks about policing its seaways will result in any significant developments in threat mitigation, target hardening and most importantly: appropriate response.
Ms Kelshall is a Fellow at the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at Buckingham University and a Fellow of the Institute of Training and Occupational Learning. She is a former UK Foreign Office Chevening Scholar.
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