ABU DHABI //¬†The location of the Arabian Gulf creates a number of security challenges in the maritime domain, global naval commanders warn.
These include the disruption of the flow of goods and services and piracy attacks.
As globalisation and the importance of the sea for world trade increases, countries become more dependent on external supplies.
States are being urged to protect their oceans and improve surveillance to anticipate crises and ensure national security.
‚ÄúThere‚Äôs no doubt that securing international maritime trade has become instrumental in ensuring the smooth function of global markets,‚Äù said Vice Admiral Evangelos Apostolakis, chief of staff of the Greek navy.
‚ÄúPirate groups which occasionally operate from lands pose an obstacle to the flow of goods and services.‚Äù
He was addressing the Gulf Naval Commanders conference in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.
With the region turning into a hub of international commerce, the security of oil supplies has become a common concern for nations.
‚ÄúThe possibility of conflict cannot be ruled out,‚Äù said Rear Adm Syed Arif Hussaini, of the Pakistan navy. ‚ÄúThis is a challenge faced by us, naval commanders. We need to estimate the current and emerging threats and work out appropriate strategies through collective wisdom, enhance cooperation and mutual trust.‚Äù
He said that over the past century, the framework of Arabian Gulf security had been based on cooperation between regional countries and dominant powers.
‚ÄúWe witnessed three wars but the security of oil supplies to the world was ensured as the focus of conflict remained on land,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúBut will the same happen in any future conflict? The world is transforming into a shape that we‚Äôve not seen before.‚Äù
Rear Adm Hussaini said the Arabian Gulf was geostrategically and geoeconomically important, which brought about opportunities and challenges.
‚ÄúThe Gulf requires a cooperative mechanism to include confidence-building and conflict prevention,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúWe need to share ideas and develop understanding.‚Äù
Rear Adm Antoine Beaussant, commander of the French forces in the Indian Ocean, said the Arabian Gulf had become the most important route.
‚ÄúGulf countries have realised what type of advantage they could draw from their cross-route position,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúThey use oil as a magnifier and they are placed at the centre of world trade traffic.
‚ÄúOur gaze is now turning to the seas and our economies are more dependent on external supplies.‚Äù
He said states had to protect their interests and preserve their oceans.
‚ÄúThis implies a need of surveillance to know the environment and anticipate a crisis,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúIt requires appropriate means to protect people and provide security and defence.‚Äù
Of all petro-chemicals traded in the world, 35 per cent move by sea. That figure rises to 65 per cent for Asia.
‚ÄúOur economies rest on efficiency of maritime transport,‚Äù said Rear Adm Beaussant. ‚ÄúNot only do we trade at sea, but we also started producing at sea. Sources of oil and commodities are moving offshore and, besides offshore oil-production sites, you find diamonds which are being extracted from the seabed.‚Äù
He said the shift towards the sea would have several consequences, including a rise in oil transportation linked to a rise in oil demands, the development of seabed exploration, a rise in marine energy farms and increased pressure on the maritime environment.
‚ÄúMastering the sea has become a necessity, so has been identifying major threats,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúThere are chances that terrorism will rise in upcoming years due to major political and religious rifts in the region so, to tackle all this, the security structure of the Gulf has to be reinforced.‚Äù
Commodore Keith Blount, the UK maritime component commander and deputy commander of the Combined Maritime Forces, said a GCC-wide committee to deal with maritime threats would mark important progress.
‚ÄúWe tend to over-classify information and become fascinated by the risks of disclosing what we know rather than the benefits of doing so,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúThe re-emergence of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea will come back.
‚ÄúI know there are more to come in the future and Somalia remains a long way from being sorted. But, in sharing information and working together, we will be even more prepared and ready to successfully deal with any crisis.
‚ÄúIncreased cooperation and inter-operability will aid regional stability and security. It‚Äôs too serious an issue for us not to take positive action to get better.‚Äù