Christian Bueger

A visit to the International Cable Protection Committee

The global subsea data cable industry meets in different formats, one of which is the International Cable Protection Committee. The ICPC is a key body that provide a forum for information exchange on technical, legal, and environmental aspects of submarine cables and issues recommendations to its members, other stakeholders and governments.

From the 17th to 20th of April, I will attend the annual ICPC meeting in Madrid. This is part of our research in the Ocean Infrastructure Research Group, and our investigation of the politics of submarine cables in particular.

At the event I will be presenting our research on cable politics, with a particular focus on recent surveillance initiatives, known as Maritime Domain Awareness, and the new focus on critical maritime infrastructure protection in the light of the 2022 Nord Stream attacks.

Next steps for the EU’s maritime security – briefing the European Council

The European Union is in the process of drafting a new Maritime Security Strategy (EUMSS) and critical maritime infrastructures is one of the issues it will address.

While the European Commission and the External Action Service are busy in developing a first draft of the strategy, a Working Party of the European Council is discussing what the strategy must focus on. Under the Swedish presidency of the Council, Member States will review and refine the first draft, which is expected to be issued as a communique in March this year. The final strategy is likely to be expected in autumn.

Briefing in Brussels

On February 15th, I had the pleasure to brief the Working Party at their meeting in Brussels. In my briefing, I first drew attention to the importance of maritime security strategy. Relying on research conducted with Tim Edmunds, I argued that strategies are key to deal with the complexity of maritime security, distribute roles and responsibilities, but also to agree on new challenges.

Three challenges are very important in this context: 1) how to response to geopolitical shifts, including the increasing use of grey zone tactics at sea, lawfare, and other disruptions, 2) how to relate the maritime security agenda to the climate and biodiversity crisis in the ocean, and ensure that maritime security forces contribute and revisit their roles, 3) how to protect critical maritime infrastructures.

Critical Maritime Infrastructure Protection

In the second part I discussed critical maritime infrastructure protection. I revisited the research we have done for the European Parliament in 2022, as well as the consequences and aftermath of the Nordstream attack. Zooming in on subsea data cables, I firstly argued that the cable system is not one, but several problems, and hence complex to deal with. The table below shows that analysis.

Not one, but six problems

I then demonstrated how the EUMSS can make important steps to improve the protection and resilience of critical maritime infrastructures. Firstly, maritime infrastructures, should not be subsumed as a ‘sector’ under the critical infrastructure protection agenda, since the legal and political context is radically different to that on land. Secondly, awareness and education must be improved, to ensure that there is a proper understanding of how maritime infrastructures work.

Thirdly, a coordination body in the EU is required to ensure the exchange of information, best practices, harmonize laws across the EU, and facilitate a productive dialogue with the industry. Fourthly, existing maritime domain awareness and surveillance instruments, such as those of the Common Information Sharing Environment (CISE) must be used more effectively. Fifthly, given the inter-dependencies of the global cable network, the EU must seek strategic dialogue with countries, including the United Kingdom, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco on how to ensure cable protection. Finally, the EU should pursue a ‘deterrence-by-denial’ strategy and improve the capacities available for rapid response and repairing infrastructures.

Pakistan’s journey to the blue economy – conference in Karachi

Pakistan’s journey to the blue economy was the key theme of the 10th International Maritime Conference in Karachi that I had the pleasure to attend and speak at last weekend.

Following the debates in other coastal states, also Pakistan is increasingly trying to seize the opportunities that are presented by blue economy thinking. The conference in Karachi, organized by the National Institute for Maritime Affairs and the Pakistani Navy, had as its main objective to establish what blue economy may mean for the country.

The rich program incorporated the full range of sectors associated with the concept, ranging from traditional economic sectors, including ports, shipping and ship breaking, to value that can be generated through aquaculture and coral reef restoration. A parliamentarian called for a blue economy task force, and the minister for climate change gave a passionate speech on why blue economy needs to focus on environmental protection and climate change adaption, rather than profit. The conference without doubt succeeded to further increase the awareness for the oceans within Pakistan and promote the concept of blue economy.

The discussion in Pakistan is interesting and differs from other countries, as the debate in many ways is let by the #navy which understands itself as the guardian of the sea. As I learned over the conference days, the navy has made a strong commitment to marine conservation. In partnership with the IUCN, navy officers help to plant mangroves. A partnership with the NGO Ocean Quest was announced during the conference which will lead to joint projects in coral reef restoration in the Arabian Sea. This is remarkable, since in other national contexts the cooperation between military and conservation communities are weak. We might see a model case emerging here, how armed forces can engage in conservation. Yet, obviously also the Pakistani navy has to make more effort to evaluate and reduce its environmental footprint and green its operations.

I was also delighted to discuss a cooperation between SafeSeas and the National Institute of Maritime Affairs (NIMA) during my stay. 

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.


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.

The strategic importance of subsea data cables for the African continent

Continuing our discussion of the strategic importance of subsea data cables, on September 22 and 23, 2022 we held an event with a focus on African challenges and capacity building. The expert workshop was organized in cooperation with the Atlantic Center, University of Cape Town, the EU’s Cyber for Development Initiative and Cardiff University.

The event featured speakers from the African industry, regional organizations such as NEPAD, UNIDIR, or the Indian Ocean Commission, as well as from South Africa, Botswana and Mozambique. Two of the key themes of the discussion were: 1) the digital dependency of Southern Africa implied by the lack of data centers as well as the weakness of intra-African connections; 2) the relationships and mutual responsibilities between states, local and global industry in building, maintaining and repairing digital infrastructures. Part of the event was an excursion to the cable repair ship that covers the East and West coast of Southern Africa, sponsored by Orange Maritime.

The event is part of our global dialogue on subsea data cables initiated through the help of the Danish Ministry of Education (DACANE) and the Velux Foundation (Ocean Infrastructure research group).