Under the Radar: Security in the Sulu Sea is set to improve

The region of the Sulu Sea, just last year branded the ‘New Somalia’, is benefiting from a new trilateral security initiative. However, key challenges remain.

Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines launched the INDOMALPHI Trilateral Cooperative Arrangement (TCA) this past summer.  The stated goal is to address “the security challenges associated with each country’s border waters”. The initiative is showing promise as a first step towards improving the security architecture in an area where terrorist activity has had major economic impact.

Cargo at risk

Border security is a serious problem in the Sulu Sea, which separates the Southern Philippine region of Mindanao from the island of Borneo.

Each year, 55 million tonnes of cargo and 18 million people transit these waters. But cooperation between surrounding countries’ governments, navies and maritime law enforcement organisations has been weak. Transnational organized crime has proliferated, along with smuggling operations and terrorist activity. Together these activities inflict extensive damage to the economy, tourism and civilian life.

The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) is a threat in the Sulu and Celebes Seas. Though small-scale and locally-oriented, the ASG is prolific, and targets fishing vessels for lucrative kidnap-for-ransom operations. In 2016, ASG coordinated a number of ship hijackings and kidnappings, taking hostage not only Indonesian and Malaysian fishermen, but also several westerners.

These attacks led Indonesia to temporarily ban coal exports to the Philippines, an $800 million industry, a decision that harmed both economies. This ban was pivotal to moving INDOMALPHI forward.

Seige of Marawi

Another tipping point was the siege of Marawi, a major city in Mindanao. Raging for over five months, this was the first coordinated and sustainable operation involving multiple IS-aligned regional groups – representing a new, asymmetric threat. The Philippine military just recently liberated the city, with most of Marawi completely destroyed.

The Marawi siege underscored how accessible the islands in this region are, an issue all three nations are attempting to address amid continuing emerging risks. For instance, the township of Sarangani, a backwater in the Celebes Sea, has been pinpointed as a critical security flashpoint.

Returning control?

On 16 October, Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana claimed the trilateral maritime patrol was going well: ‘We have not had incidents, piracy or kidnappings in the maritime areas of common concern’.  There does seem to be evidence to support this assertion, namely the greater speed and accuracy of intra-regional information exchanges, which proved useful in apprehending militants attempting to escape from Marawi. Moreover, military officers recently shot dead the ASG leader and self-declared emir of Southeast Asia, Isnilon Hapilon.

INDOMALPHI builds on several positive security developments in the region in recent years. There was Indonesian President Jokowi’s revised global maritime vision, which adopted a more outward focus, with greater emphasis on interconnectivity and broader collective security.

Jakarta and Manila’s landmark 2014 maritime boundary agreement was also a key step forward, ending an age-old dispute over the Celebes Sea. Similar commitments are now required between Malaysia and the Philippines. These countries have had multiple disputes over Sabah (nominally a Malaysian state in the north of Borneo), notably the military standoff in Lahad Datu in 2013.

Broadening partnerships

There is scope to include other members and organisations in the initiative, in view of the broader regional security challenges. ASEAN has the potential to address border threats. Assistance could also be forthcoming from Australia, Japan, and the United States, given its support for Singapore in the Straits of Malacca. Indeed, Singapore is a particularly strong potential partner, given its staunch defense capabilities.

Singapore already has the required infrastructure and technologies in place from past joint initiatives with Indonesia and Malaysia. Established in April 2009, Singapore’s Information Fusion Centre (IFC) is an important hub for cooperation on maritime security threats.

The Maritime Command Centres in Tarakan (Indonesia), Tawau (Malaysia) and Bongao (Philippines) are not of equal calibre, since these centers possess less advanced radar network capabilities. Without the IFC, a better quality of infrastructure is necessary to facilitate real-time information sharing and the inter-operability of emergency protocols.

Tempered optimism

Ultimately, the goal is to increase land cooperation between all affected countries. This includes plans to strengthen border controls and immigration checks in and around the Sulu region, curbing covert militant movements.

Malaysia and Indonesia will construct five command posts at key points along the Sabah, Sarawak and Kalimantan borders. A newly-renovated border post on Balut Island, Sarangani, will function as an inter-agency monitoring station on the Celebes Sea.

Success will depend on whether each country trusts the collaborative process and periodically convenes with partners to discuss progress and targets. Over time, familiarity with operational routines and processes, such as cross-nation hand-offs and emergency protocols, should develop.

But the biggest risk to INDOMALPHI is that the initiative remains at the mercy of political transitions in each country. Only sustained efforts will decrease the multiple risks discussed.

Source: Global Risks Insights


Pirates steal vessel donated to Nigeria by Japan

FINDINGS have revealed that a fishing and research vessel donated by the Japanese Government to the Federal College of Fisheries and Marine Technology (FCF&MT) in Lagos has been stolen by pirates. This is even as the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) disclosed that it has been able to trace the missing vessel to neighbouring Cameroun.

Investigation showed that the vessel, Sarki Baraka, is a 1982 built Panama flagged vessel with IMO number 8103107, MMSI: 371759000 Call Sign: HO4222. It has a Gross Tonnage of 1091 and Deadweight: 1200. The length overall and breadth extreme is 68.58m × 12.5m

Speaking on the development recently, NIMASA Executive Director of Operations, Engr Rotimi Fashakin explained that the vessel was donated to the college by the Japanese government for purposes of training but was stolen from where it was anchored by pirates in Lagos.

He said that when the FCF&MT realised that the vessel had been stolen, it notified NIMASA and the agency moved to recover the stolen vessel.

He said the agency had moved swiftly into action and that he had constituted his Special Assistant and some staff to search for the vessel.

“FCF&MT just told us that their training vessel was missing, so we had to move in and search for it because NIMASA is charged with ensuring and promoting indigenous shipping in Nigeria. We had to move in with the deployment of the right tools.

“There is a great collaboration in the shipping business, information sharing is one of the cardinal means of ensuring that global shipping is safe and secure.

“Through that collaborative effort, we were able to get Cameroun telling us that the vessel was found in their country,” Fashakin stated while fielding questions during a maritime event held last week.

A reliable source at the FCF&MT also confirmed that the vessel had been missing for some time now, and that the college had notified NIMASA concerning the theft of the training vessel.

Efforts to speak with the school authority for more clarification proved abortive as repeated phone calls placed to the Rector of the Academy, Dr Sule Abdullahi were not answered.

Source: Nigerian Tribune


Exercise Highcrest: Maritime, land-based agencies keep ‘terrorists’ from reaching shore

SINGAPORE: For the first time, land-based operations featured in a large-scale maritime defence exercise demonstrating Singapore’s capability not only to counter terror threats at sea, but prevent the threats from spilling over to shore.

The biennial Exercise Highcrest, which ended on Thursday (Oct 26), involved approximately 300 personnel from 14 agencies, including Singapore Customs, the Maritime Port Authority, and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority.

As part of the exercise at Changi, the Singapore Police Force’s Coastal Hardening Strike Force (CHSF) demonstrated a scenario in which personnel prevented “terrorists” at sea from infiltrating to land.

Following an interception at sea by the Police Coast Guard and the Republic of Singapore Navy, “terrorists” managed to escape and make their way to shore but were later apprehended by the CHSF.

The exercise also demonstrated the interception of “terrorist” speedboats.


Noting that Singapore’s waterways are among the busiest in the world, operations group commander of the Maritime Security Task Force, Senior Lieutenant Colonel Ang Jeng Kai, said that the security environment has undergone much change.

He said: “The Mumbai attacks in 2008 had a very important lesson for Singapore, where we saw how terrorists were able to infiltrate the shore by the sea.”

Because of the interconnectedness of land and sea activities, collaborative operations such as this year’s Exercise Highcrest are needed, National Maritime Sense-Making Group director Colonel Nicholas Lim said.

“We’re trying to coordinate to see how things that happen on land that could potentially have an impact on the maritime domain, and that we are prepared for it. And similarly, if a threat comes from a maritime domain, how do we work with our partners on land and they are in turn being ready for responses on land?

“I think there is a greater need for us to do this, especially since we’ve always been saying that the terrorist threat is as high as it is right now, so we really need to have an effective response,” he added.

Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman, who witnessed the exercise near Changi Naval Base, said: “If we are all in our own domains and we’re not talking to each other, then there will be gaps between us and that’s where the vulnerabilities are. That’s where the terrorist may enter, through those gaps. We must make sure those gaps are filled.”

Dr Maliki said more of such inter-agency exercises are set to take place, involving more personnel on land and even in the air.

“They need to be able to talk the same language, use the same systems, see the same feeds and analyse the same things … I think this is a continued work in progress,” he said. “Moving forward, we’ll see a lot more of such integration (including) the land and air domains and … different agencies.”

Source: Channel News Asia


Countering the ‘Pirates’ Paradise’: Unmanned Systems and Marine Security in Southeast Asia

Drones could help close the capabilities gaps that allow pirates to flourish in Asian waters.

In prior articles, we wrote about the use of unmanned systems for military affairs, focusing on naval combat and hybrid warfare and the possible dangers of how unmanned systems could fit into the framework of political hybrid warfare. However, unmanned systems – UAVs in particular – have more uses than those described above, including the use of UAVs for surveillance purposes to counter piracy across Southeast Asian (SEA) waters.

Piracy spiked in many parts of the world in the early 2000s, particularly in oceans with high traffic and relatively long distances being covered by container ships with little or no protection in the open waters. As reported in the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) most recent quarterly report on maritime piracy, during the first three quarters of 2017, an estimated 121 incidences of piracy occurred. Incidences of piracy covered such actions as attempted attacks, boardings, shootings, hijackings (and attempts), and citings of suspicious vessels by commercial shipping.

The waters of the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Eden are well-known when it comes to piracy. Yet 40 percent of all piracy attacks undertaken over the past two decades occurred in Asian waters. Piracy has become a major security concern in the context of commercial shipping operations taking place from the Andaman Sea to the waters off the northern coast of the Philippines. In 2016 and 2015, the greatest concentration of piracy, which predominantly included boardings but attacks as well, took place in the SEA region. The region has essentially become a “pirates’ paradise.”

Southeast Asia is a “paradise” for pirates because governments have failed to establish early warning systems and thus develop their early warning and response capabilities, while surveillance and control have been falling behind the growing challenge. In such a setting, the use of unmanned systems, from UAVs to unmanned surface vehicles (USVs), provides a distinctive area of opportunity for states seeking to reduce the threat of piracy toward vital commercial shipping and shipping routes. Relatively cost effective, UAVs are able to surveil extended areas and provide security through continuous reconnaissance.

UAVs have been discussed as possible instruments of anti-piracy for several years as other efforts have proved to be of limited effect. Target hardening, for instance, has played a significant role in reducing the threat of piracy in certain locations, but hardening every potential target comes at a great cost and cannot be treated as a feasible long-term solution in the face of piracy, especially without incorporating the UAV element. It, therefore, comes as no surprise that commercial shipping companies that rely on the use of strategic choke points and operate in distant locations beyond the reaches of maritime security forces have increasingly turned their attention to UAVs being employed in this domain.

Efforts have been undertaken to incorporate UAVs into anti-piracy missions. The European Union Naval Force’s (EUNAVFOR) Operation Atalanta, the EU’s anti-piracy naval mission off the coast of Somalia, deployed UAVs for intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISR) purposes. Such efforts could be replicated in the SEA maritime domain, and to great effect. Local navies could seek to incorporate UAVs in their ISR, though such efforts do not come without their own set of challenges. Of the regional navies, Indonesia and Malaysia have the financial, logistical, and operational capabilities to deploy medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) drones. Smaller units could be used for ISR purposes closer shorelines and for tracking piracy locations, sanctuaries, and raids on safe havens at short distances.

UAVs can provide advanced warning for essential shipping and the movement of much-needed goods in for growing economies and populations. The deployment of these systems can also reduce the burden placed on conventional air forces assigned to anti-piracy duties and as a result reduce the financial burdens that fall on governments. The United States has increasingly employed its ScanEagle UAV, which is also operated by other partners in the international fight against piracy in the open waters. The MQ-8B Fire Scout (with a unit cost of under $20 million) is another vital instrument incorporated into international efforts to combat piracy. Northrop Grumman’s Fire Scout, introduced over a decade ago, can complement strike squadrons ready at sea to interdict potential pirates in vital waterways. These are viable solutions for states able to afford and manage intricate systems or that either rely on or work directly with the United States in the maritime security realm.

China’s U650 seaplane drone, which can make water-landings, represents an alternative to the United States’ offerings. The completely unmanned unit, now being mass-produced in Shanghai, is capable of operating for up to 15 hours at travel at a speed in excess of 110 mph. Research and development in the unmanned realm has shown the potential to spawn a healthy competition between drone states, possibly leading to benefits for others in the commercial maritime realm.

Beyond efforts led by states, the possibility of using private security companies for unmanned surveillance ought to be considered carefully. Private companies could provide such services in a two-fold system. The first would be via MALE drones, capable of tracking and surveilling on a broad scale. The second option comes in the form of deploying armed guards – as is increasingly the custom on international shipping vessels – using small unmanned units. The use of smaller UAVs by private security companies and contractors would enhance their own ISR capabilities, increase their ability to provide security and could function as early-warning systems for the state.

As UAV costs – small and medium alike – have come down in recent years, it seems increasingly likely that private companies, as non-state security actors, could provide help to fill the security gap when it comes to this vital aspect of the global economy. At the same time, the wholesale of military UAVs – as enabled by China – has helped SEA military actors acquire their own unmanned aerial capabilities. A combination of these state actors and non-state, commercial efforts by shipping companies and contractors could provide the aerial surveillance capability needed to reduce the threat of piracy in the waters around SEA and turn the “pirates’ paradise” once more into a safe and secure shipping heaven.

Tobias Burgers is a doctoral candidate at the Ott-Suhr-Institute (Free University of Berlin) where he researches the rise and use of cyber and robotic systems in security relations, and the future of military conflict.

Scott N. Romaniuk is a Ph.D. candidate in International Studies (University of Trento). His research focuses on asymmetric warfare, counterterrorism, international security, and the use of force.

Source: The Diplomat


China to continue escort missions in Gulf of Aden, Somalia

China will continue to participate in escort missions in the Gulf of Aden and waters off Somalia to protect the international lane, a spokesperson said.

The comment by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang came as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres praised China in a report to the UN Security Council, saying that China’s escort missions played an important role in coping with the pirate threat.

China appreciates the UN chief’s acknowledgement of China’s work and contribution, Geng said at a daily press briefing.

Under the mandate of the UN Security Council, Chinese Navy began to carry out escort missions in the Gulf of Aden and the waters off Somalia in December 2008. Up to July 2017, it has dispatched 26 task force groups, escorted 6,400 Chinese and foreign vessels and warned away more than 3,000 suspected pirate ships, according to Geng.

“China’s engagement in international cooperation against Somali pirates has won applause and contributed to international and regional peace and security,” said Geng.

Source: Hellenic Shipping News


Criminals are migrating to the water space- CNS

The Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok Ete-Ibas yesterday in Lagos, attributed the rise in sea robberies to the migration of criminals from land to the water, even as he assured that the Navy would checkmate the trend.
Speaking with journalists at the end of his three days tour round commands and naval formations under the Western Naval Command, the CNS said that the Navy had been able to block all access in water where criminals used to source for funds. This he said , led to their migration into sea robberies , all in the bid to get money. He said : ” You should know that most of these criminals are migrating.
The reason is that when you block the access where these they get their fundings, they migrate to other means to survive. “So far , the Navy has shut down most of the illegal refinery sites and we have been able to bottle up their activities and prevent them from going to sea. Also, with the support of other regulatory bodies, most of the boats they used out there, like the 200 horse power, have been seized. They therefore, are looking for other ways to survive .
That is why when they rob on land , they run to the back waters. But the Nigerian Navy is on their trail .” He disclosed that so far, over 5000 spaces at the back waters has been identified but was quick to add that aside the fact that the back waters was not part of the Navy’s responsibility, its patrol ships could not also navigate the areas due to its shallow nature. On other hand, he revealed that the Navy had been able to bring acts of piracy to the barest minimal, by effectively safeguarding the maritime environment . He pointed out that effect of the dwindling cases of piracy on the nation’s territorial waters had started rubbing off on the economy, owing to the increase in maritime activities.
He said : “So far , I think the results are there to speak for themselves. Our mandate is to provide maritime security and an enabling environment for our seafarers . “We have been able to considerably bring down the cases of piracy on our waters. All these are well noticed in the volume of trade, as the export and import of products are on the high side . And the fishing trade is also on the increase . ” These and other more, are the positive impact our operation have on the economy.”
The CNS however, stated that the Navy was still in need of more platforms that would help in actualising its emplaced Safe Transit Corridor, a process whereby Navy’s patrol vessels would lead vessels carrying goods and products out of the country , from where the Navies of other countries would take over u til the vessels reach their destinations. He pointed out that the initiative was to provide robust protection for vessels and prevent them from being attacked by pirates. He explained that the tour was an annual routine carried out in all commands , informing that it was aimed at appraising the readiness of the Navy , as well as to interact with men and officers , remind d them of what was expected of them, as well as discuss the way forward on security.

Source: Vanguard

Coalition Forces Render Aid to an Iranian Fishing Vessel

In coordination with the European Union Naval Force and the Turkish-led Combined Task Force (CTF) 151, which is a part of the Combined Maritime Forces, the U.S. Navy provided assistance to an Iranian fishing vessel after a reported piracy attack Oct. 24, south of Socotra, Yemen.

 The Iranian coast guard called U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) to report the incident and seek assistance for the fishing vessel. NAVCENT coordinated with the European Union Naval Force, who sent a patrol aircraft to investigate the incident.
The U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer USS Howard (DDG 83) and the CTF-151 attached Japan Maritime Self Defense Force destroyer JS Amagiri (DD-154) responded to the vessel’s location.
The Howard’s boarding team provided food and water, made repairs, and gave medical aid to three injured civilian mariners.
Source: Marine Link

EUNAVFOR Somalia Operation Atalanta: new Operation Commander appointed

Today, the EU’s Political and Security Committee has appointed Major General Charlie Stickland, a high-ranking military official in the Royal Marines, as new Operation Commander of the Operation Atalanta. He will take up his duties on 7 November 2017.

The European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) Operation Atalanta contributes to the deterrence, prevention and repression of acts of piracy and armed robbery off the Somali coast. The operation is part of the EU’s comprehensive approach for a peaceful, stable and democratic Somalia.

The operation also protects vessels of the World Food Programme and other vulnerable shipping, monitors fishing activities off the coast of Somalia and supports other EU missions and programmes in the region.

After the car bomb attack of 14 October 2017 in Mogadishu, Operation Atalanta, the EU Delegation in Somalia and the EU Training Mission in Somalia, provided support in particular to the United Nations to assist the victims.

The EU’s Political and Security Committee is composed of member states’ ambassadors based in Brussels.

Source: Hellenic Shipping News


Countries thankful of Iran’s counter-piracy measures

TEHRAN, Oct. 25 (MNA) – Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari noted other countries’ appreciation of Iran’s effective countermeasures against maritime terrorism and piracy, saying maritime diplomacy is important for neutralizing Iranophobia.

Speaking to reports on Wednesday, Iranian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari made the remarks in relation to the country’s effective measures in foiling numerous pirate attacks in Bab-el-Mandeb Strait and Gulf of Aden.

He noted his participation at the Venice Regional Seapower Symposium (RSS) for the Navies of the Mediterranean and Black Sea Countries where he was invited to provide the European country with Iran’s experience in ensuring security in high-risk maritime zones; “some 50 countries took part in the symposium and many speeches were delivered, while Iran’s address was included in the first panel,” he added.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran had a global viewpoint at the event and presented an international view on the reasons and motives related to security and sea-based economy,” he said.

Sayyari considered the most fruitful achievement of Iran’s participation at such events as the opportunity to showcase the country’s military and defense capabilities to the world.

“The world today no longer sees Iran as an isolated country. It knows that we are fully capable of maintaining security and procuring powerful equipment,” he added.

He went on to say, “if financially supported, we will be able to provide for all our needs for equipment in far-away seas.”

Source: MEHR News Agency


Mawilla 2 to boost maritime security

KUALA LUMPUR: The new Naval Region 2 headquarters (Mawilla 2) in Sandakan will increase the confidence among the maritime community, especially fishermen operating along the east coast of the Sabah, on their security.

Navy chief Admiral Tan Sri Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin said the establishment of Mawilla 2 was a commitment of the Defence Ministry and Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) to boost security off the eastern coast of Sabah.

“We cannot remain complacent but must always be proactive in protecting the maritime community in the area,” he said after a pinning of ranks ceremony at KD Sri Gombak, here, on Thursday.

He said the headquarters could also contribute to social and economic development in the area, adding that the construction of the base covered several aspects, including infrastructure development and increase in RMN manpower and assets.

Mawilla 2, which was previously based in Kota Kinabalu, was moved to the Sandakan RMN Base and started operating on August 30.

Chief Minister Tan Sri Musa Aman officiated at the inauguration ceremony of Mawilla 2 yesterday.

A total of 59 navy officers and staff, including 13 athletes who won gold medals at the
2017 SEA Games recently, received their promotions during the ceremony.

The event also saw commander Rohana Jupri promoted as captain, the first female officer to hold a senior position.

Source: The Straits Times

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