A safer and more secure maritime space: increasing capacity in delivering coastguard functions

What is the challenge at stake?

The western Mediterranean region is facing a number of complex maritime threats, leading to growing concerns on the safety and security of human and economic assets. All such concerns are preventing future Blue Economy development potentials across the region and require greater coordination across involved actors to increase maritime safety and security at sea in the region. A number of initiatives involving Southern partner countries promote the development of maritime surveillance, maritime security and safety, but this promotion and means allocation are done at different levels or with different partners in the region and cooperation amongst coastguard functions across the western Mediterranean region is still limited.

What are the persisting problems and gaps identified?

The set-up, maintenance and operation of information-sharing systems are a pre-requisite for enhanced maritime surveillance to sustain safety and security policy. Although progress has been made to facilitate information sharing in specific crises (e.g. oil pollution events), the geographical coverage of existing data systems is still limited on the Southern shore of the Mediterranean. For the time being there is still a lack of information-sharing regarding the maritime pictures (i.e. covering the different issues at stake) across the western Mediterranean region as a whole.

Different initiatives1 are dealing with cross-border cooperation with respect to the issue of maritime security and safety, with different EU agencies being involved (European Border and Coast Guard Agency (FRONTEX), EMSA, EFCA). These initiatives can be used as seeds to enhance joint initiatives in the field of maritime safety and security in the western Mediterranean region, building on the existing cooperation actions (capacity building with SAFEMED projects or Seahorse Mediterranean Network for instance)..

An enhanced and homogeneous maritime safety culture in the Mediterranean is needed. It can be incentivised through the cooperation between EU and Non-EU coastal States in key areas such as flag state implementation; port state control; protection of the marine environment; maritime traffic surveillance; search and rescue.

Joint activities, exchange of best practices between EU and Non-EU Countries and facilitation of existing tools and applications are an additional step towards greater coordination within the Region. Cooperation amongst training centres, aimed at enhancing mutual understanding and promoting joint training sessions (on bi-lateral and multi-lateral basis), common exercises, exchange of personnel and other training cooperation activities, would bring benefits. Current efforts towards greater coordination have been fostered (e.g. through the recent establishment of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency and the relevant revisions of the Founding Regulations of EFCA and EMSA), taking place on the northern shore of the western Mediterranean region, should inspire similar developments across the western Mediterranean region as a whole.

Due to the humanitarian consequences of illegal migration flows trying to cross the western Mediterranean, maritime surveillance operations in the region often move to contingent actions aimed at rescuing migrants under control of national responsible bodies. The importance and unpredictability of the flows often exceed the capacities of locally involved coastguard functions and bodies. In this respect, the limited cooperation across the whole sub-sea basin poses some challenges with respect to the needed flexibility of local operations (OSCE 20142), to respond to the magnitude of illegal migration flows and to quickly adapt to the unpredictable evolution of the path of such flows.

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