Commanders warn of maritime security challenges for Gulf during Abu Dhabi conference

The geographical position of the Arabian Gulf has brought forward a number of challenges in keeping sea trade safe.

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ABU DHABI // The location of the Arabian Gulf creates a number of security challenges in the maritime domain, global naval commanders warn.

These include the disruption of the flow of goods and services and piracy attacks.

As globalisation and the importance of the sea for world trade increases, countries become more dependent on external supplies.

States are being urged to protect their oceans and improve surveillance to anticipate crises and ensure national security.

“There’s no doubt that securing international maritime trade has become instrumental in ensuring the smooth function of global markets,” said Vice Admiral Evangelos Apostolakis, chief of staff of the Greek navy.

“Pirate groups which occasionally operate from lands pose an obstacle to the flow of goods and services.”

He was addressing the Gulf Naval Commanders conference in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.

With the region turning into a hub of international commerce, the security of oil supplies has become a common concern for nations.

“The possibility of conflict cannot be ruled out,” said Rear Adm Syed Arif Hussaini, of the Pakistan navy. “This is a challenge faced by us, naval commanders. We need to estimate the current and emerging threats and work out appropriate strategies through collective wisdom, enhance cooperation and mutual trust.”

He said that over the past century, the framework of Arabian Gulf security had been based on cooperation between regional countries and dominant powers.

“We witnessed three wars but the security of oil supplies to the world was ensured as the focus of conflict remained on land,” he said. “But will the same happen in any future conflict? The world is transforming into a shape that we’ve not seen before.”

Rear Adm Hussaini said the Arabian Gulf was geostrategically and geoeconomically important, which brought about opportunities and challenges.

“The Gulf requires a cooperative mechanism to include confidence-building and conflict prevention,” he said. “We need to share ideas and develop understanding.”

Rear Adm Antoine Beaussant, commander of the French forces in the Indian Ocean, said the Arabian Gulf had become the most important route.

“Gulf countries have realised what type of advantage they could draw from their cross-route position,” he said. “They use oil as a magnifier and they are placed at the centre of world trade traffic.

“Our gaze is now turning to the seas and our economies are more dependent on external supplies.”

He said states had to protect their interests and preserve their oceans.

“This implies a need of surveillance to know the environment and anticipate a crisis,” he said. “It requires appropriate means to protect people and provide security and defence.”

Of all petro-chemicals traded in the world, 35 per cent move by sea. That figure rises to 65 per cent for Asia.

“Our economies rest on efficiency of maritime transport,” said Rear Adm Beaussant. “Not only do we trade at sea, but we also started producing at sea. Sources of oil and commodities are moving offshore and, besides offshore oil-production sites, you find diamonds which are being extracted from the seabed.”

He said the shift towards the sea would have several consequences, including a rise in oil transportation linked to a rise in oil demands, the development of seabed exploration, a rise in marine energy farms and increased pressure on the maritime environment.

“Mastering the sea has become a necessity, so has been identifying major threats,” he said. “There are chances that terrorism will rise in upcoming years due to major political and religious rifts in the region so, to tackle all this, the security structure of the Gulf has to be reinforced.”

Commodore Keith Blount, the UK maritime component commander and deputy commander of the Combined Maritime Forces, said a GCC-wide committee to deal with maritime threats would mark important progress.

“We tend to over-classify information and become fascinated by the risks of disclosing what we know rather than the benefits of doing so,” he said. “The re-emergence of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea will come back.

“I know there are more to come in the future and Somalia remains a long way from being sorted. But, in sharing information and working together, we will be even more prepared and ready to successfully deal with any crisis.

“Increased cooperation and inter-operability will aid regional stability and security. It’s too serious an issue for us not to take positive action to get better.”