Shipping transports more than 80% of global trade equaling about US $4 Trillion worth of goods and connecting economies. Maritime security is a vital piece of ensuring safe, sustainable, and profitable shipping. Poor maritime security has been tied to piracy and armed robbery at sea, illicit activities by terrorist and rebel groups, illegal fishing, human trafficking, and more. These issues overlap in driving shipping away from certain areas, such as the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Guinea.
September 27 is observed by the International Maritime Organization and the United Nations as World Maritime Day. This year’s theme is “Better Shipping for a Better Future”- examining “current and future challenges for maritime transport to maintain a continued and strengthened contribution towards sustainable growth for all.”
The Gulf of Guinea serves as an example of the relationship between shipping, the economy, and maritime security. Shipping and trade connect nearly 450 million African consumers to the global economy through the Gulf of Guinea. Yet, African ports overall remain largely underdeveloped. Without proper maritime security and safety in these developing ports, vessels can be vulnerable to threats such as piracy, armed robbery and other maritime crime.
According to One Earth Future’s Stable Seas project and its Maritime Security index, when these attacks happen, port traffic steeply declines, losing valuable customs revenue as traffic moves elsewhere.
Strengthening maritime security through regional, international and inter-agency coordination—such as the Yaounde Code of Conduct, can shorten the response to attacks, increase communications and patrols, and help make shipping safer. If coastal African nations are not connected to the growing and global shipping network—they, and economies further inland, risk getting cut out of these markets, leading to future disadvantages.
As the IMO celebrates 70 years and looks ahead at the future of maritime transport, global actors should prioritize strengthening maritime security.