Intelligence sharing needed for maritime security

GCC states must step up the sharing of intelligence to help counter maritime security threats, security experts say.

Paul Burke warns that new weaponry could enable militants to strike the oil industry.
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ABU DHABI // GCC states must step up the sharing of intelligence to help counter maritime security threats, security experts said yesterday. Greater co-operation was needed between the GCC states building on measures implemented in a counter-terrorism pact signed in 2004, said Paul Burke, a counter-terrorism expert and former British military intelligence officer, speaking at a session on maritime security in the UAE at the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research, a government-funded think tank.

The main external threats lay with the proliferation among militant groups of more sophisticated weaponry that could target ships and the determination of terrorist groups to strike the oil industry, he said. Militant groups increasingly had access to weaponry that used to be available only to regional armed forces, Mr Burke said. He offered examples such as the RPG-29 Vampir and the Ababil unmanned aerial drone used by Hizbollah in the 2006 Lebanon War.

During the same conflict, the INS Ahi-Hanit, an Israeli ship, was struck by what was probably a Silkworm anti-ship missile, killing four crew members. The Silkworm was originally exported by China but is now developed locally in Iran. Mr Burke said one scenario involved terrorists using such weapons to attack targets in the Strait of Hormuz. Since 2005, al Qa'eda had threatened to attack the oil industry, potentially targeting liquefied natural gas and oil tankers, Mr Burke said.

About 40 per cent of global oil exports pass through the Strait of Hormuz, with the UAE exporting almost US$70 billion (Dh257bn) worth of oil - 25 per cent of its gross domestic product - through the passage last year. "The resulting damage [from maritime attacks] is very large - the devastating loss of life and the economic impact," said Ahmed al Astad, the head of social and economic studies at the centre.

"To close the Strait of Hormuz would have an immediate impact on global trade." According to Mustafa Alani, the director of national security and terrorism studies at the Gulf Research Centre in Dubai, the region's navies needed clearer rules of engagement. State-sponsored maritime threats were unlikely to succeed, he said. An attempt by Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz failed during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, he said, and Iran's military capability had not improved much since then.

"There is definitely a threat to maritime security, but it's not imminent," he said. However, there was a "lack of capacity in maritime security", he added. "If anyone wants to bomb offshore oil installations or export terminals, ports, pipelines, they can do it easily because the threat is not developed so the countermeasures are not developed as well."