The Mediterranean Sea has always been a strategic maritime trade and transportation region. However, the numerous islands and peninsulas in the area have made it convenient for smugglers to operate. But, the rise of terrorist groups in North Africa has only compounded the problem.
The European Union has developed a maritime security strategy that focuses on cooperation between member states and NATO to combat these threats. This strategy is implemented through various naval exercises and operations, such as Irini and Sea Guardian. The on-going deployment of the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle and the Task Force 473, composed of several European ships and sailors, is a new step for a coordinate European action in the Mediterranean Region.
Thus, with tensions high in the region, all actors must work together to maintain security in the Mediterranean Sea. Read on to learn more about the maritime security strategy.
Maritime Issues Regarding Security in the Mediterranean Region
The Mediterranean Sea is a strategic region for maritime transportation, with significant volumes of oil and gas passing through its waters. Therefore, the security of this area is essential to ensure the free flow of traffic and trade. However, several issues are affecting maritime security in the Mediterranean that require attention:
Maritime terrorism can take multiple forms: criminal activity at sea (e.g., drug trafficking or human smuggling) or terrorist attacks on commercial vessels such as ferries and cruise ships. Drug and weapon smuggling is also a security concern for many countries as illegal substances can finance criminal organizations involved with terrorist activities.
The second issue refers to pirate attacks that have been recorded off the Libyan coast following the 2011 revolution. There are also concerns about boats being used by terrorists to transit across national borders undetected – this could pose significant risks if they plan an attack inside another country’s waters.
European Union Maritime Security Strategy
The European Union has developed a maritime security strategy to protect its interests in the Mediterranean Sea. Currently, the French-led Task Force 473 deployed in Mediterranean Sea is the result of EU Members defense partnership, which will strengthen interoperability and coordination between military assets in region. One of the strategy’s main goals is to improve cooperation between EU member states and NATO allies. Besides, the approach focuses on drug and weapon smuggling, piracy, and maritime terrorism.
The following are the strategies that have been put in place to achieve this goal:
The Irini operation– was a naval operation conducted by the European Union to disrupt illegal arms trafficking in the Mediterranean Sea. The procedure was launched in March 2020, as a successor of Sophia Operation started in 2015, and is still on-going.
The main goal of the Irini operation is to stop weapons from being smuggled to terrorist groups in Libya. The process managed to seize over 6000 firearms.
Below are some benefits of the Irini operation to maritime security:
- The procedure showed that the European Union could conduct complex naval operations
- It improved cooperation between EU member states and NATO allies
- It disrupted illegal arms trafficking in the Mediterranean Sea
Naval exercises– are a vital part of improving maritime security. They allow navies from different countries to train together and learn their procedures. This makes it easier for them to cooperate during real-world operations.
The following are some examples of naval exercises that have been conducted recently:
A multinational naval exercise called Poseidon 2018 was held in May of this year. The exercise involved ships and aircraft from 19 countries, including Italy, France, Greece, and Turkey.
In June of the same year, the United States and France held a joint naval exercise in the Mediterranean Sea. The exercise involved the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman and the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle.
In addition, the European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) conducted an anti-piracy exercise off the coast of Somalia in September of this year. The exercise involved ships from 23 countries, including Spain, Italy, and Portugal.
The cooperation between EU and NATO
The collaboration between EU and NATO is crucial for ensuring maritime security in the Mediterranean Sea. NATO provides valuable resources and expertise, while the European Union offers several significant benefits, such as unity and cohesion.
As an example, many European Union members, acting also as NATO allies, participate to Sea Guardian, a maritime security operation aimed at protecting vessels from piracy and terrorism threats in the Mediterranean Sea. The Sea Guardian operation was launched in October 2017 and involved sailors from several NATO members such as the United States, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Greece or Spain.
This week, three carrier strike groups from USA (USS Harry S. truman), France (FS Charles De Gaulle) and Italy (ITS Cavour) conducted joint activities to improve interoperability at the highest level.
Overall, the European Union has put several strategies to improve maritime security for the Mediterranean Sea. However, more needs to be done to ensure that naval security remains a priority in the region.