Speech

The United Kingdom's national strategy for maritime security

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Stephen Hammond

I’m delighted to be here to mark the launch of the UK national strategy for maritime security. There can be few places more appropriate to discuss the importance of maritime security to the life of the nation than the UK Chamber of Shipping.

As shipping minister I regularly visit the UK’s indispensable maritime infrastructure. And I recently visited Dover to set out a plan for the future of the port.

It is one of our largest ports, an essential link with continental Europe and a vital artery of the nation’s economy and it is therefore vital that we have a thriving port and thriving town. So I was delighted that we have reached an agreement that will allow this to happen.

But one other thing struck me when I was in the town. On the seafront is an extremely impressive Merchant Navy memorial. The statue depicts a merchant seaman keeping watch on the waves. It stands as a reminder to the immense contribution made by the men and women of the Merchant Navy to the war effort. Winston Churchill remarked that:

But for the Merchant Navy who brought us the food and munitions of war, Britain would have been in a perilous state.

And we’re here today (13 May 2014) because the security and safety of our sea lanes and those that use them remain essential. Because as island nation without secure shipping, we would not have sufficient food on our tables, goods in our shops, material for our factories, nor the energy needed to keep the lights on.

So we simply cannot underestimate the importance of the sea to the British way of life.

But that very importance of maritime to Britain brings commensurate challenges. While the need to maintain security is permanent the nature of the threats we face wax and wane over time. The strategy we are launching today identifies our current priorities including:

  • the risk of terrorist strikes against cargo or passenger ships
  • attacks on UK maritime infrastructure, from ports to offshore assets, including cyber-attack
  • transportation by sea of threats into the UK - including weapons of mass destruction, drugs and guns
  • people smuggling and human trafficking

and the risk that disruption to vital maritime trade routes impacts on our ability to transport the people, food and goods that we need.

But we should remember that the UK starts from a position of strength. When it comes to maritime security we are standing on the shoulders of giants.We have a long and proud maritime history and we have significant resources available including first class police, military and diplomatic capabilities.

But just as the nature of the challenges we face change our greatest strength comes from knowing when we can become even better at protecting our national interests.

That is why the UK now has, for the first time, a national maritime security strategy to bring all of our good work together. The strategy sets out the objectives we wish to achieve, and how we intend to improve our efforts in the future. Finally it outlines the governance structure which will allow us to deliver effective and efficient maritime security.

First, we are improving our knowledge of the threats we face now and in the future. We will review the maritime risk assessment biennially to ensure it remains focussed on the threats of greatest concern to UK maritime interests. This will help us identify future resource competition including in the marine transportation and off-shore energy sectors. This will be particularly important as the potential for international tension in the northern sea route increases in significance.

Second, we are improving partnership working between departments and agencies. The strategy highlights the excellent work of Border Force and others in helping to combat illegal activity in UK waters. Our Royal Navy Offshore Patrol vessels and Border Force fast patrol ships carry out reconnaissance, deterrence and interdiction at sea.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) will lead the whole of law enforcements fight against serious and organised crime affecting the UK. In 2010, as part of the Strategic defence and security review, we established the National Maritime Information Centre (NMIC) in a temporary location to the West of London.

The NMIC brings together maritime information and intelligence from across government departments and agencies and acts as a national focal point for international partners. It provides real time information on maritime activity around the UK and areas of national interest. It supports government and industry decision-making in times of need.

We are already benefitting from this approach.

We are able to globally source information that previously would have remained obscured. The NMIC will move to a permanent and bespoke location at the end of the summer to further capitalise on this collaborative approach. And I’m pleased to say that Border Force have accepted the important role of lead executive agency for the NMIC from this April.

Let me give just one example of the benefits we are seeing.

In august last year the agency supplied intelligence to the NMIC on a potential drug shipment to the UK. The NMIC used its ship tracking expertise and contacts across government to co-ordinate our efforts. This led to the seizure of a ship containing a major shipment of Class A drugs bound for the UK’s streets.

I want to see more of this happening.

So we will develop the mechanisms for joint working to become even more productive.

Third, we will protect Britain’s essential maritime assets. The Marine Management Organisation and the devolved administrations, working with others, will secure UK fish stocks.

The Department for Energy and Climate Change, supported by the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure, will safeguard UK energy supplies. This includes approximately 300 gas and oil rigs and a rapidly increasing number of off-shore wind farms.

And the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has commissioned work to improve the security of the 40% of our food that arrives by sea. My own department is responsible for the safeguarding of UK ports and REG flagged shipping from acts of terrorism.

And in another example of joint working industry colleagues are responsible for having in place security measures on the ground to protect UK ports and shipping. Departmental and Maritime and Coastguard Agency inspectors work closely with them providing expert advice and guidance.

And there is cross-government collaboration to fund trials of new screening and detection technology to detect the threat items of the future and we have put in place a policy for allowing the use of armed guards on ships to protect them from acts of piracy.

Underpinning this is the recognition that we need to manage what we do more effectively.

That is why the strategy confirms the new maritime security governance structure now in place in the UK. Top level direction is provided by the ministerial working group on maritime security. And a new body of senior officials from across all departments and agencies will co-ordinate the security work-streams.

But meeting maritime threats effectively would not be possible without the close support and involvement of UK industry. So that is why we have, for the first time, created a national level maritime security committee to be chaired by industry. It will sit alongside the officials’ body and provide it with industry expertise to assist its efforts. I am delighted to say, given this venue, that the UK Chamber of Shipping have accepted the role of chair of the committee.

That will ensure the partnership between government and industry on maritime security will be even stronger.

I am confident this new governance structure will ensure protecting maritime remains a priority for government.

Our efforts will be even better co-ordinated and our resources exploited to the maximum.

So to sum up, we face new and evolving threats to the UK’s essential maritime interests.

We are gearing up to meet these.

We start from a position of strength.

This strategy will make us more robust and more resilient.

It includes an exciting new partnership with industry, led by the UK Chamber of Shipping and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for your contribution to the UK’s safety and security.

I’ll now hand you over to Mark Francois who will speak to you about the equally important international dimension of the strategy.

Published 14 May 2014