On 4 August 2022, the RSIS Maritime Security Programme hosted a workshop on the evolving threats to Southeast Asia’s maritime security. The workshop assembled experts from across Southeast Asia and beyond the region to take stock of about a dozen contemporary maritime challenges. These include interstate disputes; terrorism; piracy and sea robbery; illegal, unreported, and regulated (IUU) fishing; forced labour; human trafficking; illicit drug trafficking; environmental crime; seafarer safety; climate-induced disasters; and navigation hazards.
The discussion hinged on examining the current state of the security situation within Southeast Asia’s maritime areas. To explore those issues, the expert panellists shared their assessments regarding how these threats have evolved over the last twenty years and evaluated the corresponding responses that have been put in place. Other core questions dealt with the governance tools being used to respond to various threats, the harms imposed by the various threats, and the role of maritime domain awareness in relation to those threats.
While the workshop discovered that most regional maritime security threats have been reduced by state action, initial successes often turn up another layer of problems. For example, efforts to tackle IUU fishing challenges have highlighted the severity of the region’s forced labour problem. Shortfalls in the comprehensive regional cooperation framework were considered as one of the main impediments in managing many of the maritime threats that manifest outside of or across the exclusive economic zones of the coastal states. In contrast, interstate competition can exacerbate threats such as those related to irregular migration or, as in the case of territorial disputes, be the primary driver of security challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic has placed additional strains on the already limited capacity to monitor, enforce, and tackle these challenges effectively, while economic conditions are pushing some individuals to engage in criminal activity and negatively impacting community resilience. As most of these maritime threats are transnational in nature, regional countries would need to enhance existing cooperative mechanisms and collectively find practical solutions at the regional level.
Proceedings from the workshop will be published subsequently.