Christian Bueger

Towards joint ocean management? The experience of Seychelles and Mauritius

The joint management of maritime zones is often seen as a leading vision for how the oceans can be better governed. The African Integrated Maritime Strategy outlined a vision of shared Exclusive Economic Zones for blue economy goals. Others propagate Marine Peace Parks – jointly managed zones which would allow to overcome border disputes and establish synergies between marine protection and maritime security goals. Also the BBNJ negotiations, highlight that joined management might be the future of ocean governance. Are there model cases, that would allow us to see how joint management might work (or fail)?

In 2012 Seychelles and Mauritius signed a bilateral treaty agreeing on a joined up management for their extended continental shelf. It is today known as the Joined Management Area (JMA). Today I had the pleasure to have a conversation with the project manager, Francesca Adrienne, that has helped to get the JMA running.

The establishment of the JMA is supported by a UNDP led project, funded under the Global Environmental Facility (GEF). This capacity building initiative, as Francesca Adrienne told me, has assisted in the establishment of a governance structure, an ongoing marine spatial planning processes, a joint approach to maritime control and surveillance and a shared IT infrastructure for managing ocean data.

The two countries also benefitted from trainings, in law, data processing and governance. The project, which ends in April this year, also provided the framework for three exploration missions in the zone, collecting oceanographic data , and studying biodiversity and the life of mammals.

I also learned how difficult it is to conduct capacity building, which echoes our earlier studies related to maritime security. A key struggle is how to get everyone together to act concertedly and harmonize laws. It also concerns how to retain staff that has been trained, and how to maintain the infrastructures build in the future.

We also discussed more specific problems in shared marine management. This includes how to align the marine spatial planning process in the JMA with those in the Exclusive Economic Zones of the two countries.

It also concerns how to integrate the JMA within broader ocean governance in the region, including the maritime security architecture build through the Indian Ocean Commission’s MASE project. Since this architecture also deals with some of the main risks to biodiversity in the zone — illegal fishing, and shipping accidents, there is quite some synergies.

The JMA outlines how we might move joined ocean management forward. Many lessons will be drawn from it in the future. Whether and how the JMA will contribute to ocean health and maritime security, needs to be seen. It is after all an arrangement that deals with the seabed only, and it is driven by the goal to exploit resources.

While no oil and gas has yet been found in this remote part of the world, nor are deep seabed minerals in abundance, it is worrying that neither Seychelles nor Mauritius have taken a stance towards deep sea mining, or under what conditions they would exploit any other seabed resources.

What’s the role of academia in maritime security? New commentary

In 2022 the RSIS in Singapore launched a small research project attempting to identify the various roles that types of stakeholders, such as navies, the industry or NGOs have. The initiative led by John Bradford, provides a great overview of how diverse these roles are, and how positions and interests differ.

In my contribution to the project, I discuss the role of academics based in university and think tanks. I show that the field of maritime security research has been substantially growing and provide some distinctions for orientation: curiosity vs. policy driven research and objectivist vs. interpretivist analyses. I argue that research can make substantial difference in enhancing practical reflexivity, providing conceptual clarifications, developing models to sort the complexity of maritime security, or identifying gaps and misalignments in responses.

Seasonal greetings and a happy new year 2023

As the year ends and the festive season is in full swing, I will be out of office and not respond to emails, between 23.12. and 7.1.2023. I wish everyone a great couple of days and a good start into the new year!

2022 was a busy and productive year. The key highlights included the launch of our new research group on Ocean Infrastructures in which we will develop new understandings of global ocean politics. The Nord Stream attack in autumn led to much media attention for our work on subsea infrastructures.

Having been in the making for several years, our edited volume Conceptualizing International Practices was finally published by Cambridge University Press. One of my favorite recent essays on Styles of Theorizing Practice also is out.

I had the pleasure to spend parts of this year on research leave. I spent extended periods in Italy, Kenya, South Africa, Malta and Mauritius. Thank you to everyone hosting me during these times! The post-Covid time also led to quite a number of invitations to give talks. In a quick recount, it was no less than 35 talks in workshops, naval symposia and other events!

It was good to engage with colleagues to discuss security, theory, and stuff such as Maritime Domain Awareness, security strategies, or infrastructures. A highlight was the Seapower Symposium in Sydney hosted by the Australian Navy where I gave a key note address on the evolution of maritime security thinking.

The draft of the book Understanding Maritime Security authored with Tim Edmunds is also done, and I look forward to see it published in 2023. It will be a key new resource for professionals and analysts to unlock the complexity of maritime security and to connect the dots.

In 2023 I will be teaching a new course that I am quite excited about. Global Ocean Politics is an attempt to reconnect the sea to the discipline of international relations, and to enhance the awareness among students for the challenges in the oceans. I look forward to explore the topic with students.

In the coming year, we will also work on a new edited volume. Following our authors workshop in October, Kimberley Peter, Tobias Liebetrau, Jan Stockbruegger and I – the ocean infrastructure research group -, are editing a volume that showcases the variety of infrastructures and how they govern the sea. I also look forward to working with a new post doc that will join us in Spring in the group.

I am planning to spend some time in 2023 to continue the research on maritime domain awareness, on maritime security strategy collaborating with the EU and others, write up a piece on marine accidents, and return to some methodological questions of practice theory and concept analysis.

Presentation at International Maritime Symposium, Pakistan

On December 21st I had the pleasure to address the audience of the International Maritime Symposium, organized by the National Institute of Maritime Affairs Pakistan. The two day symposium had the objective to revisit the key challenges in the Indian Ocean region and to discuss consequences and policy options for Pakistan.

I was invited to speak at the panel on Maritime Security in the Context of Regional Connectivity, alongside Vice Admiral (Rtd) Iftikhar Ahmed Rao and Prof. Dr. Azhar Ahmad. Vice Admiral (Rtd.) Abdul Aleem acted as chair.

In my online presentation (download the entire script here), I revisited the current maritime security situation in the Western Indian Ocean based on our recent article (with Jan Stockbrueger) and discussed the two mega trends of maritime security – the rise of geopolitics and planetary thinking – that we identify in our forthcoming book Understanding Maritime Security (with Tim Edmunds). I then outlined some of the policy options and strategic choices for Pakistan to become an honest broker and a leading regional maritime security provider.

Writing retreat in Mauritius

In the past week, Tim Edmunds and I, were holding a writing retreat in Mauritius. We also visited the Wakashio accident site, and the Indian Ocean Commission. Primarily we used the time to put the final touches on our forthcoming book Understanding Maritime Security.

Our retreat in Poste Lafayette, Mauritius

The main objective of the book is to provide readers at different levels with a concise and coherent introduction to maritime security. Our focus is on essential knowledge – need to know, not nice to know. We hope to reach readers with different levels of experience, from the complete beginner, to those who already look back on a professional career in maritime security related tasks, as well as those who are students enrolled at universities and in active professional careers. The book is scheduled to come out in 2023. Contact me per email or social media if you are interested in reviewing a draft chapter.

Maritime Domain Awareness networks – presentations in Rome

Maritime Situational and Domain Awareness (MDA) is one of the key solutions in the maritime security tool box and one of the core themes of my recent research. Since almost 20 years the Italian navy facilitates one of the most important international mechanisms for MDA, known as the Virtual-Regional Maritime Traffic Center and the Trans-Regional Maritime Network. I participated in the annual expert meeting on December 1st, and introduced the key conclusions from SafeSeas research on how to improve MDA.

Twenty two navies were represented at the event, including representatives from Ghana, Kamerun, Brazil Argentina, Singapore and from the Mediterranean Sea and Black Sea. The event offered the opportunity to reflect on the importance of MDA in different settings and how to extend and improve data exchange in the network.

The network relies on the FENIX system hosted by the Italian navy. FENIX is conceived as a “service-oriented infrastructure for maritime traffic tracking”. It provides tools for identifying suspicious behavior at sea, a shared list of Vessels of Interest, as well as a chat function. It hence provides similar functions, as other tools such as the U.S. platform Seavision, or the IORIS platform developed and promoted by the E.U. in the Indo-Pacific region. Such platforms can be important additional decision making instruments for operations at sea. The greatest strength of a platform such as FENIX is the communities that it connects by synchronizing data from different national and regional sources, but also by provide direct channels of communication.

Like other networks also the VRMTC/T-RMN faces the challenge of how to deal with the fact that MDA initiatives have multiplied over the years. The long term experience with the two initiatives might help to better network the networks and make a global community of maritime security practice a reality. It could in particular help to better standardize Vessels of Interest lists, and incident reporting.

Forum on European Maritime Domain Awareness

Maritime Domain Awareness, in short MDA, is one of the most important solutions in the maritime security tool box. It centers on the idea that surveillance, data collection and information sharing can improve the response to maritime security incidents, deter threats, and identify suspicious behavior. The EU operates two related MDA platforms: The Common Information Sharing (CISE) platform focuses on the civil domain and is operated by the European Marine Safety Agency (EMSA); the Maritime Surveillance (MARSUR) platform focuses on military purposes and is developed by the European Defense Agency (EDA).

I had the pleasure to participate in a symposium organized by the EDA on November, 18th in Brussels. The event evaluated the state of MDA in Europe and how MARSUR could be improved. At the event, I introduced my research on MDA and discussed what barriers to information sharing must be overcome.

Participation in SHADE Med

On the 15th and 16th of November, I am participating in the Shared Awareness and Deconfliction in the Mediterranean (SHADE Med) meeting. SHADE Med is an informal naval coordination mechanism that was created in response to the challenges that irregular migration posed in the region. It draws on the role model of a mechanism that was created for the purpose of counter-piracy in the Western Indian Ocean.

The focus of the meeting is on “New challenges to regional security in the Mediterranean”. In addition to operational updates on the operations IRINI (EU), SEA GUARDIAN (NATO) and MEDITERRANEO SICURO (Italy), the are a number of strategic themes that will be discussed. The first day focuses on the implications of the EU’s new Strategic Compass, published in early 2022. On the second day the situation in Libya, new challenges to maritime operations, and the interdependence between food, energy and climate change will be discussed.

I will be contributing to the theme on new challenges, introducing our research on critical maritime infrastructure protection and what the implications for maritime operations in the region are.

Searching for a new vision of ocean politics – lecture at University of Malta

The oceans have gained much world political attention. Yet, ocean debates continue to be structured by three visions – the oceans as closed, free or global commons. In a talk I will be giving at the Department of International Relations, University of Malta, I argue why these visions are limited. We have to ponder about alternatives. I outlines how thinking with ‘infrastructures’ can help us to go beyond territory, freedom, state-centrism and formal law, enables paying attention to technology and economics, and capturing global ocean politics in the age of the anthropocene.

The talk titled Ocean Infrastructures – Searching for a new vision for global ocean politics, takes place on November, 23rd (12.00-13.30), Boardroom 212, Old Humanities Building, Department of International Relations, Faculty of Arts.