EU plans new patrols and efforts to increase maritime security

The European Commission (EC) has adopted a policy and action plan calling for enhanced efforts to safeguard the maritime domain against what it described as new threats.

An EU review of the existing policies had begun before the war in Ukraine and recent incidents involving offshore infrastructure, but the commissioners said that the events highlighted the urgency of increasing maritime security efforts.

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

The EC said that security threats and challenges had multiplied since the adoption of the EU Maritime Security Strategy in 2014. While referring to long-standing threats such as piracy, armed robbery at sea, smuggling of migrants and trafficking of human beings, arms and narcotics, as well as terrorism, the EC 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.”

The plan was last updated in 2018. In June 2021 the European Council recommended accessing the needs for a further update.

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

The Commission wants to extend the EU’s influence in the area, with specific steps called for in the strategy including the organizing of 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 would require the endorsement of the Council of the European Union; the Commission has also invited member states to endorse and implement the strategy. The EC said that it would issue a progress report within three years.