Why is maritime security important?

The prosperity and the security of the European Union and its Member States depend on a safe and secure ocean. Over 80% of global trade and about two-thirds of the world’s oil and gas supply is either extracted at sea or transported by sea. Up to 99% of global data flows are transmitted through undersea cables. To unlock the full potential of the oceans and the sustainable blue economy, the global maritime domain must be secure.

While maritime security is vital for the EU as well as globally, it is increasingly affected by a number of threats and challenges such as, transnational crime, piracy and other illicit activities, territorial disputes, growing geopolitical rivalries, competition for natural resources, and threats to freedom of navigation, including right of innocent passage and transit passage.


What is the EU maritime Security Strategy (EUMSS) and what have been the main achievements so far?

The EU Maritime Security Strategy (EUMSS) and its Action Plan were adopted in 2014. Since then, they have provided a framework for addressing security challenges at sea.

The Strategy has strengthened cooperation between civilian and military authorities, in particular through information exchange, sharing of best practices and better operational coordination.

It has helped promote rules-based governance at sea and develop cooperation between the EU and its international partners on maritime security issues. It has strengthened the EU’s autonomy and capacity to respond to maritime security threats and challenges.

At the international level, it has allowed the EU to play an increasingly important role as a global maritime security actor, by:

  • conducting its own naval operations, e.g. Atalanta and Irini;
  • developing the Coordinated Maritime Presences (CMP) concept and implementing it in the Gulf of Guinea and the North-West Indian Ocean; and
  • strengthening its ties with a wide range of external partners, including by supporting their action on maritime security through capacity-building programmes.


Why update the EUMSS now?

Security threats and challenges have multiplied since the adoption of the EUMSS in 2014 and since the update of the action plan in 2018, requiring further and reinforced action.

The EUMSS is still a valid framework in its broad objectives and principles, but it needs to be updated in light of the evolving maritime security challenges and geopolitical context, and aligned with the latest EU’s policies and instruments, in particular the Strategic Compass for Security and Defence.

Developments across the globe, such as Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine, remind us that the EU needs to enhance its security and step up its capacity to act not only on its own territory, but also in its neighborhood and beyond.

The updated Strategy is an opportunity to drive forward sustainable solutions to the maritime security issues that the EU and the international community face. The Strategy promotes peace and security as well as respect for international rules and principles, while ensuring the sustainability of oceans and the protection of biodiversity. It is also an opportunity to enhance the EU’s role and credibility internationally. The EU and its Member States will implement the updated Strategy, in line with their respective competences.

The updated Strategy will allow us to address new and evolving threats more effectively:

  • Geopolitical competition: maritime and territorial disputes, competition over marine resources, threats to freedom of navigation (including right of innocent and transit passage) and tensions in various maritime areas of strategic importance for the EU (e.g., the Horn of Africa and, the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Guinea, the Indo-Pacific and its key shipping routes such as the Malacca Singapore, Bab-el-Mandeb and Hormuz straits).
  • Climate change and marine pollution: Environmental degradation can exacerbate crimes such as piracy through food shortages (loss of stocks), coastal and island flooding leading to instability and inequality. Gaps in maritime security may result in serious environmental damage such as loss of biodiversity.
  • Hybrid and cyber-threats: Attacks on pipelines and cables and the presence of unauthorized unmanned vehicles around offshore installations in sea basins around the EU and recurrent hybrid and cyber-attacks targeting maritime infrastructure. Malicious actors are increasingly likely to use hybrid and cyber means to target maritime infrastructure.
  • Continuing threats: terrorism, piracy and armed robbery against ships, trafficking of human beings, arms and narcotics, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing remain critical challenges. Malicious actors may combine them to carry out hybrid attacks.

The Action Plan, as proposed, contains specific actions to address all these threats and challenges.


How will the EU promote its maritime security interests?

The updated EUMSS will contribute to maintaining and improving maritime security in European sea basins and beyond.

To protect the EU’s interests, the EU will step up its action under six strategic objectives:

  1. Step up activities at sea by organizing naval exercises at EU level and reinforcing the existing EU naval operations, developing further coastguards operations in European sea basins,  increasing the EU collective engagement as a maritime security provider by designating new maritime areas of interests for the implementation of the Coordinated Maritime Presences concept (CMP), maintaining and reinforcing maritime port security inspections in the EU, and addressing cyber-security and passenger ship security.
  2. Cooperate with partners by deepening EU-NATO cooperation, enhancing partnerships with likeminded countries as well as with regional and international organizations, deploying EU liaison officers to maritime information centres in non-EU countries and promoting dialogue and best practices through the coast guard function forums, especially in the Mediterranean.
  3. Lead on maritime domain situational awareness by strengthening CISE (the Common information sharing environment) and MARSUR, integrating cyber-resilient space-based solutions and reinforcing coastal and off-shore patrol vessel surveillance.
  4. Manage risks and threats by conducting regular live maritime exercises involving civil and military, drawing up risk assessment plans, monitoring and protecting critical maritime infrastructure and ships from physical and cyber threats, tackling unexploded ordnance and mines at sea etc.
  5. Boost capabilities by developing common requirements and concepts for defence technologies in the maritime domain (both surface and underwater), stepping up work on projects such as the European Patrol Corvette, unmanned systems, improving our anti-submarine capabilities etc.
  6. Educate and train by boosting hybrid and cyber security qualifications notably on the civilian side, and conducting training and joint exercises open to non-EU partners.


What is new in the updated EUMSS?

  • The updated EUMSS proposes the establishment of an annual EU naval exercise, involving relevant entities from as many Member States as possible to enhance preparedness and response capabilities to tackle old and new threats in the maritime domain.
  • The updated Strategy contains a range of actions to deal with climate change and degradation of the marine environment. Climate change and environmental degradation have a number of direct and indirect effects on maritime security, for example damage to coastal communities and critical maritime infrastructure due to extreme weather and sea level rise, or climate-induced poverty and migration, contributing to migrant smuggling or pushing affected persons towards various illicit activities at sea. The updated EUMSS aims to strengthen capabilities and training to respond to climate-related disasters at sea; improve knowledge and early-warning systems using the latest technology; and, develop renewable technology suitable for use by navies and coast guards.
  • The updated Strategy calls for the development of a coherent framework to tackle unexploded ordnance (UXO), conventional weapons and chemical weapons at sea. This comprises the development of an action plan to tackle UXO in the Baltic Sea where the UXO problem is particularly acute. This plan will include the identification of the best methods and technology to safely eliminate UXO, with the involvement of the industry, as well as military and civilian entities. This plan could then be replicated in other sea basins.
  • The updated Strategy will address hybrid threats through a wide range of actions. These could include exercises, inspections and exchange of information to protect maritime infrastructure, specialized training courses and curricula, and utilising the tools and expertise of the Hybrid Center of Excellence (located in Helsinki).


Is the EU working with international partners on maritime security? How?

The EU has been working on maritime security with a range of international partners. It has developed cooperation with the UN system, in particular organizations such as the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and UN agencies such as UN Office on Drugs and Crime, to ensure safe and secure seas and oceans globally and to promote respect of international law, in particular the rules set out by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The EU has strengthened its cooperation with NATO in the area of maritime security and hybrid threats and will seek further progress in ensuring complementarity between the respective efforts of both organizations, building upon the EU-NATO Joint Declarations and the ensuing common actions for implementation.

The EU has also developed cooperation on maritime security with regional partners in Asia and Africa, such as the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN), the African Union, and has been actively supporting the Gulf of Guinea coastal States in the implementation of the regional strategy to improve maritime security in the region (Yaoundé process). The EU is also strengthening its ties with a number of partners, in particular in the Indo-Pacific.


Does the Strategy address the issue of capabilities?

Capability development to support maritime security has been a priority for the EU and its Member States. The implementation of several maritime Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) projects offers significant potential to support further EU capabilities in the area of maritime security, alongside other multinational initiatives. The EU has also been funding research initiatives for maritime security in the civilian domain under the research and innovation program Horizon 2020. Research in this domain will continue to feature prominently under Horizon Europe.