People smuggling in the Mediterranean could be the tip of the iceberg


MastMaster_colour_2013Incidents of criminality and piracy on the high seas and in coastal areas of the Mediterranean could become more prevalent as the human trafficking organisations become more established, says leading maritime security firm MAST.

Phil Cable, CEO of MAST who attended the Sea Trade Awards in London on Wednesday 6th May, said: “The rapid increase in human trafficking out of Libya and other North African countries is a particularly worrying development as it could easily become a jumping off point for terrorism, piracy or other forms of criminality. We need to remember that these movements of people are occurring in a part of the Mediterranean which is relatively narrow. With vessels concentrated into a small area it will not be difficult for terrorists and criminals to successfully target commercial and private shipping.

“It is clear from the conversations we are having with our clients in the shipping industry that there is real concern that the security situation in the Mediterranean could get out of hand. The key lesson learnt from combating Somali piracy is that failure to act early and decisively has long term consequences, especially on seafarers’ lives.

“It is important that international bodies such as the UN and EU, along with national governments and the shipping industry work together. If national governments commit to providing sufficient and capable assets for policing and law enforcement, it should be possible to massively reduce the potential for collateral. It is nevertheless incumbent on the shipping industry to play its part through taking appropriate measures to ensure their vessels and crews are kept safe through additional security measures, such as Best Management Practices 4 (BMP4).”

He added: “The fact that experienced, influential and well thought of strategic analysts such as Rear Admiral Chris Parry have warned that the Mediterranean is under threat from Somali style piracy, is contributing to the sense of nervousness among the shipping industry. However, in our view, he is right to argue that the increasingly fragile security situation in the Mediterranean is a threat to Europe and that this change was being fuelled by the situation in Libya, which is becoming a haven for criminals engaged in people smuggling.

“While Parry’s claim that it is only a matter of time before we start to see crime and piracy off the North African coast in the form of attacks on cargo ships, super-yachts, or even tourists on beaches, may sound far-fetched to some, it should be remembered that no one took the Somali situation seriously either, despite some clear warning signs from 2003 onwards. The lesson of Somali piracy is that once the criminal factions have momentum, it takes a major international and commercial effort to suppress them.

“Another lesson of Somali piracy is that policing the high seas and self-protection of vessels is only a part of the solution. Effective law enforcement, which works seamlessly across international and national boundaries, is vital to medium and long term success.  This takes time to set up and requires cooperation from regional states if it is to be successful.”