Cyprus Brings Maritime Security to the Fore

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Cyprus, as you may know, is the third largest island in the Mediterranean (after Sicily and Sardinia which both belong to Italy). It has an extraordinarily complex history, which is not the subject of this post, but let us just say that the island was partitioned in 1974 and that the northern part of it is Turkish, the rest being independent and inhabited by Greek Cypriots.

This Greek influence is of some import, I believe, in the fact that one of the major issues which Cyprus is handling during its stint at the helm of the European Union's six-month revolving presidency, is maritime security.

We all know that the shipping sector is extremely powerful in Greece and had it paid its taxes ... but that's another story.

So, in its rôle as president of the EU until the end of the year, Cyprus organized a symposium held yesterday in Paris: “Towards a global approach of Maritime Security for the Mediterranean.”

It's not too soon. Europe, with its 120,000 km of coastlines “does not have a single instrument or means to deal with all maritime security issues,” says Walter Stevens, director of the European External Action Service's (EEAS) Crisis Management and Planning Directorate.

Other speakers noted that 2,000 vessels a day, including 20% of the world's tankers, ply this sea whose principal characteristic is that it is almost entirely surrounded by land. They remarked that 480 ports dot its coastlines but 80% of them are in the western and central areas; they suggested that discussions with the countries of North Africa and the Levant should be based on political and economic grounds because there are “values of our society – such as the place held by women – that can't be discussed with these new regimes,” says Roberto Aliboni, scientific counselor at the International Affairs Institute in Rome.

Admiral Jean-Marie van Huffel, project director of BlueMassMed (Blue Maritime Surveillance System Mediterranean) talked at some length about this first project for maritime surveillance launched by the European Commission and in which France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain participated. Launched in 2010 it delivered its outcome in June but had not had the time to thoroughly experiment with the maritime surveillance network after overcoming “immense” difficulties because of sovereignty issues amongst the partners. Nevertheless, van Huffel stressed that even if BlueMassMed as such is now closed, the partners remain and are “ready to continue to feed into information sharing.”

“We took the systems that existed and then took the necessary steps to make them interoperable,” he said, adding that “European navies are used to working together, but they must get used to working with another world that is not so organized.” He commented too that the partners had also had to change their mindset from a “need to know” basis towards a “responsibility to share” basis, but that the “road to more systematic cooperation is more widely open” now than it was two years ago.

Vice Admiral Sir Anthony Dymock, who chaired one of the symposium round-tables, aptly remarked that “political will is vital but it is a finite and sometimes elusive commodity.”

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