EU Plans New Patrols and Efforts to Increase Maritime Security

EU Maritime Security
(EU NAVFOR - Operation ATALANTA - NA photo)

Published Mar 10, 2023 1:48 PM by The Maritime Executive

The European Commission today adopted a policy and action plan calling for enhanced efforts to safeguard the maritime domain against new threats. While the review of the existing policies had begun before the war in Ukraine and recent incidents involving offshore infrastructure, the commissioners said the events highlighted the urgency of increasing maritime security efforts as the EU economy depends greatly on a safe and secure ocean.

“We should take the strategic importance of our oceans seriously,” said EU Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevi?ius at a briefing after the adoption of a Joint Communication on the Enhanced EU Maritime Security Strategy. “We will tackle the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation on maritime security, strengthen maritime surveillance tools, enhance our defenses against cyber and hybrid threats, and reinforce the protection of critical maritime infrastructure.”

The commissioners agreed that security threats and challenges have multiplied since the adoption of the EU Maritime Security Strategy in 2014. They pointed to the long-standing illicit activities, such as piracy, armed robbery at sea, smuggling of migrants and trafficking of human beings, arms and narcotics, as well as terrorism. They also highlighted “new and evolving threats must also be dealt with increasing geopolitical competition, climate change and degradation of the marine environment and hybrid and cyber-attacks.”

Recent events, including the high-profile sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines that remains under investigation, as well as Russian spy ships seen near wind farms in Belgium and the Netherlands, added new urgency to the EU’s efforts. The plan had last been updated in 2018. A recommendation in June 2021 from the European Council for accessing the needs for a further update started the current effort.

“We are making full use of our tools to pursue our interests and promote the rules-based order at sea,” said Josep Borrell, High Representative and Vice President of the European Commission. “We are delivering on our commitment to strengthening the EU’s role as a global maritime security provider.”

Among the specific steps called for in the strategy are organizing naval exercises at the EU level, developing further coastguard operations in Europe, reinforcing security inspections in EU ports, and designating new maritime areas of interest. The action plan calls for reinforcing coastal and offshore security patrol vessel surveillance, increasing information sharing, and deepening EU-NATO cooperation. They plan to conduct regular live maritime exercises in an effort to monitor and protect critical maritime infrastructure and ships from physical and cyber threats.

The strategy needs endorsement from the Council of the European Union while the Commission is also inviting member states to endorse and implement the strategy. The Commission will issue a progress report within three years.

The EU joins with its neighbors in the perceived risks and efforts to increase security. The Nordic countries have responded to recent events including drones spotted near offshore operations. The UK purchased two commercial offshore vessels that are being converted for monitoring and patrol efforts by the Royal Navy to protect sensitive offshore and undersea assets.