Much of recent debate concerns how maritime domain awareness (MDA) and information sharing can be effectively organized, in particular under resource constraints. Surveillance technology and tools for data fusion and algorithmic analysis are expensive. The tools developed by MDA centers in the US, UK or in Singapore are hardly options for lower income countries and regions. Yet, what are the alternatives? An answer comes from Pakistan.
In 2013 Pakistan has inaugurated its Joint Maritime Information Coordination Center (JMICC). Situated in Karachi and operated by the Pakistani Navy the center has developed an innovative approach to MDA which provides useful lessons for other countries and regional centers. Three core principles underly the work JMICC: inclusivity, community engagement, and responsiveness. During a visit to the center on the 15th of February, I had the opportunity to learn more about how the center works and puts these principles into practice. Each of the principles is discussed in the following.
The center structures its work in six domains: 1) Maritime Terrorism, 2) Piracy, 3) Organized Maritime Crime (in particular smuggling of people, narcotics and weapons), 4) Illegal exploitation of the Exclusive Economic Zone (in particular fishery crimes), 5) Marine Pollution and 6) Search and Rescue. It hence covers the full breadth of maritime governance and law enforcement tasks, and is neither focused exclusively on security, nor limited to a particular issue. To cover these domains and facilitate information sharing in each, the center works with a remarkable number of 46 national stakeholders. These include all governmental agencies relevant to the maritime (e.g. maritime security agency, port authorities, fishery administrations, or naval forces). In difference to comparable centers, JMICC also works closely with civil society, industry, and community organizations as well as academia and training institutes. Many of the stakeholder have a representatives working within JMICC, the number of which will be significantly extended once it will move to its new building ready by the end of 2017. In addition to working with representatives, JMICC engages with these stakeholders in different forms: through regular phone calls, visits, as well as annual joint exercises and an annual symposium.
JMICC runs an impressive community engagement program. Its objective is to work with the “grass root level”. Staff members regularly visit coastal villages and engage with elders as well as the fishermen folk. Part of these regular, often monthly, visits is to listen to the concern of the coastal community and discuss the problems that they have identified. The goal of the visits is also to promote JMICC as a trustworthy partner and as the first point of contact should fishermen or coastal people make observations on suspicious activity and incidents, or have other concerns. Much of the information that JMICC draws on comes from such human resources. The local knowledge and experience is particularly useful as an early warning mechanism, but also allows for the quick transmission of information in particular in those areas where there are no other means of surveillance. Community engagement for JMICC, however, also means to engage with the community of seafarers. Pakistani Seafarer associations are part of their stakeholder group. By adopting a forward looking approach JMICC staff also visit the marine training academies regularly so that the future generation of seafarers is aware of the center’s work and its readiness to assist.
JMICC has established itself as the first point of contact for any maritime emergencies. It is staffed 24/7, offers assistance to the maritime community and responds to any type of incident within its 6 domains. Once it receives relevant information, discusses it with its stakeholders, and identifies the relevant agencies to initiate a response. It then enters the incident information into the Common Operation Picture, and compiles an after action report, which becomes archived in a database and informs future actions. Coordinating the response to incidents is by far the major part of JMICC’s work. It has in particular a substantial record in assisting Search and Rescue operations, but also responses to fishery and environmental crimes, as well as environmental incidents. There are also several examples in which it has assisted law enforcement in counter-narcotics operations. Gradually JMICC is building up analytical and predictive capacity. So far it compiles a monthly report on Patterns of Life at Sea and the operational picture, drawing on data from communities, AIS and LRIT, but also open sources and news media. This report is disclosed and distributed to the naval headquarters but also other governmental stakeholders. What keeps other MDA centres awake at night — big data and predictive algorithms — is, however, less a concern of JMICC. Drawing on its human resources, it will continue to work primarily qualitatively and this will also shape the reports it plans to issue in the future.
JMICC: A role model?
As the director of JMICC explained to me during my visit, the center understands itself as a learning organization. It is willing to experiment and try out things to gradually improve the work of the centre and it national and international outreach. Its contribution to regional maritime domain awareness and to capacity building in particular with its Eastern African neighbors can without doubt be improved. Stepping up its international visibility is important to demonstrate that there are alternatives in how to do MDA. Rather than high-tech, a people centered approach driven by the three core principles of inclusivity, community engagement and responsiveness might be a valuable option for lower and middle income countries.