Thursday, February 25, 2021

Security Conference Updates Merchant Shipping Interests on the Guardians of Middle Eastern Waters

International Maritime Security Construct Protects Against State Sponsored Terrorism
Shipping News Feature

MIDDLE EAST – The success of the combined international naval forces in controlling the criminal elements which, not so long ago, were the scourge of the region's waters, has largely removed them from the headlines of the shipping press which they once dominated. Piracy has been greatly reduced, and while terrorist incidents remain, these too are at a lower level than hitherto.

Nevertheless the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC) continues to work together with industry partners to safeguard freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce and to reassure merchant shipping by deterring and exposing state-sponsored malign activity that threatens security of the maritime commons in the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden and the Southern Red Sea.

On 23 February the IMSC held its second Stakeholders Conference for maritime industry professionals online from Naval Support Activity Bahrain. The conference was held to inform maritime industry professionals about regional security, IMSC mission capabilities, Coalition Task Force (CTF) Sentinel current operations, as well as the future of the mission.

CTF Sentinel is the operational arm of IMSC which deploys ships and aircraft throughout the region to promote freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce in international waters. The operation’s plans director, Commander Derek Elling, United States Navy, commented:

“The Stakeholders Conference is IMSC's flagship international engagement event that brings together the shipping industry and security partners from across the region. The conference theme of ‘Security through Partnership’ emphasises the need for teamwork in the ever-necessary effort of deterring and exposing malign activity at sea.”

The industry-focused conference featured speakers from supporting maritime organisations such as the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKTMO), US Naval Forces Central Command’s Naval Cooperation and Guidance for Shipping (NCAGS) and maritime risk managers Den Norske Krigsforsikring for Skib Intelligence & Operations Centre (DNK IOC).

Royal Navy Commodore Craig Wood CBE, commander of the IMSC’s task force, addressed the question of where the organisation fits among other military efforts in the region, saying:

“As a coalition of eight nations, IMSC stands organisationally separate from other military efforts sustained by any of the individual coalition member nations. Therefore, though we do not coordinate with other efforts, we do de-conflict activity. We also share maritime domain awareness information with regional professional mariners in the civilian and military sectors, as we all depend on security and stability in these international waters.”

United States Navy Captain Todd Hiller, head of the region’s Naval Cooperation and Guidance for Shipping (NCAGS) unit, provided a brief history of NCAGS and an explanation of the organisation’s importance to regional commercial shipping during the conference, saying the team exists to serve as a key node for maritime domain monitoring and the facilitation of the information flow between commercial shipping and the nearby regional military and civil authorities.

Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander Sam Wicks, IMSC’s director of joint engagement, presented the update to IMSC Bridge Reference Cards. Originally published in June 2020, the reference cards are designed as a quick-access distillation of guidance found in the United Kingdom Marine Trade Operations’ (UKMTO) Best Management Practices to Deter Piracy and Enhance Maritime Security, edition 5 (BMP5) to address specific scenarios that threaten the physical security of merchant vessels.

Commander Wicks explained how it is important to have an easy-to-grab reference, especially when it may be challenging to think clearly with everything happening during a possible emergency.

In coordination with UKMTO, the Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF) provides IMSC with a Merchant Navy Liaison Officer (MNLO), who delivers visibility and support between the merchant shipping industry and naval community through ship visits and regular communication. Christopher Scothern, who currently serves as IMSC’s MNLO, who was also a conference speaker, said:

“The IMSC is delivering on its mission to deter aggression against commercial shipping and promote freedom of navigation. This is necessary for the confidence of owners, managers, and all seafarers employed in the maritime domain, operating vessels in the Gulf region.”

Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander Samuel Yee of UKMTO provided industry with greater familiarity of the incident reporting process and the interactions that can be expected between UKMTO, merchant vessels, shipping companies, and flag nations. Once conference speakers concluded their presentations, there was a robust question and answer session where panellists addressed questions provided by industry members.

Mark Sutcliffe, managing director of the Company Shipping Officer (CSO) Alliance said the conference helped to provide shipping company security officers a better understanding of the maritime picture in the Arabian Gulf and the Southern Red Sea, whilst it also gave the assurance that there is a team at the UKMTO, directly connected to all the military resources, to call during times of trouble, which means a lot.

United States Rear Adm. Curt Renshaw, deputy commander of US Naval Forces Central Command and US 5th Fleet, when discussing freedom of navigation and the importance of IMSC, commented:

”It's critical that we keep these waterways open for business. It's evolved into a necessary component in the international network of organisations committed to ensuring the stability of the global economy during a time that has been wrought with a number of difficulties, not to mention a global pandemic in addition to regional tensions.”

Photo: Commander Coalition Task Force Sentinel, Commodore Craig Wood, observing the presentation by Christopher Scothern, IMSC's Merchant Navy Liaison Officer (MNLO) (not pictured) during the online IMSC Stakeholders Conference.