Universiteit Leiden

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Research focus area

Maritime Security

The project 'Policing the high seas: maritime law-enforcement in a multi-actor environment' aims to identify the gaps in the legal framework for EU activities in the maritime security domain, and specifically in the areas of combating piracy, human smuggling or trafficking and drug trafficking.

Contact      Jorrit Rijpma

 

Across the globe, illicit activity at sea has spurred a growing interest in ensuring a secure maritime domain. The sea is a unique functional and territorial regime in which the sovereign powers of coastal states decrease as the distance to their shores increases, no state being entitled to claim sovereignty over any part of the high seas, in respect of the freedom of navigation. This regime is essentially based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea supplemented by numerous treaties to ensure safety and security at sea and combat illicit activities perceived as threats to maritime security, in particular piracy against ships, drug trafficking as well as smuggling and trafficking of human beings.

In 2014, the EU adopted a Maritime Security Strategy and in 2015 the European Commission tabled an ambitious proposal for a European  Border and Coast Guard. The legal framework within which the EU’s maritime strategy is taking shape is in many ways unclear. The respective legal obligations of actors in the maritime environment are difficult to ascertain due to the interaction and overlap between multiple legal regimes, and the fact that on the high seas and beyond they act outside national territory (extra-territorially). In addition, the scope of enforcement powers at sea and criminal jurisdiction in the aftermath of operations is ambiguous. These challenges are exacerbated by the presence of multiple public and private actors, which include not only various states and the EU, but also a number of international organisation (e.g. NATO, IMO) as well as private security firms. The largely unregulated use of new technologies for maritime surveillance adds to this complexity.

The challenges faced by the EU in enhancing maritime security are not unique. Drug trafficking in the Caribbean, boat people in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific, piracy in the Strait of Malacca: all have triggered internationally coordinated responses and raise similar legal questions. Whilst the EU is a unique form of international cooperation, the EU and other regional organisations (ASEAN, CARICOM, AU) can learn from each other’s experiences in finding innovative solutions to global challenges.

The aim of this project is to identify the gaps in the legal framework for EU activities in the maritime security domain, and specifically in the areas of combating piracy, human smuggling or trafficking and drug trafficking. As such it contributes to an effective maritime policy based on the rule of law and fundamental rights. This project takes full account of the multi-actor environment within which law-enforcement at sea takes place by exploring the topic from three different angles: the involvement of multiple public actors,  the role of private actors and information-gathering and sharing through the use of innovative technology. Within each of these areas possible solutions will be proposed, taking into account the lessons learned from the experiences of other regional organisations facing similar challenges.