Terror on the High Seas
Dr Vijay Sakhuja ·       

Aditya Bakshi's book - Terror on the High Seas - is indeed a timely academic work particularly when the maritime community is struggling to keep its environment safe and secure for a vibrant and a dynamic maritime enterprise. The September 11 events have considerably altered the discourse on security both among the parishioners and also the academics. Today the focus is on non-traditional security threats and the maritime forces are fast reorganizing to challenge the new entity of non-state actors. In such a security environment the book seems like a timely academic exercise to gauge the maritime threat perceptions.

The book begins with several 'Fateful Friday' hypothetical scenarios based on 'actual threats'. From U.S. stock exchange to the Malacca Straits, the author has attempted to paint these scenarios to initiate a non-maritime reader to understand the gravity of the problem of terrorism at sea. The phenomena of sea piracy and maritime crime has been discussed but is too piracy centric. The author has mixed too many issues like flags of convenience and verification of the ships crew in the same chapter. Recent maritime terrorism related incidents have been discussed but the narrative then attempts to locate the Mumbai bomb blasts and Bali bombing in the context of maritime terrorism. These are not essentially incidents that come under the purview of maritime terrorism. Besides, the author tends to confuse between piracy and terrorism. For him there are no distinctions between piracy and terrorism and every act of crime on the seas is terrorism.

There are some useful data in the book, like for instance details about the International Maritime Bureau or the ISPS code, various graphs on sea related crimes and details about the arms and weapons being used by 'pirates/terrorists'. These weapons are essentially for use by regular forces and are also available to non-state actors. The use of explosive laden suicide boats as the most important weapon has not been highlighted. The book also discusses several Commercial off the Shelf Technology (COTS) equipment that is available to merchant shipping and those that are recommended by the International Maritime Organisation.

The formatting of the book is poor with chapter titles and their contents not in sync. For instance threats to sea and port security go hand in hand with measures to tackle these threats and details about the international laws related to maritime security all mentioned at various points in the same chapter. Similarly, the printing of various pictures of equipment and weapons is poor.

In sum, the book can best serve as a data guide book on maritime related crimes. The author could have done better by making a distinction between different maritime related crimes and analysed the propensity of terrorist groups towards terrorist attacks on the seas. The maritime capabilities of the different terrorist groups in South and South East Asia like the LTTE, the Abu Sayyaf and the Jemaah Islamiyah to name a few should have been presented in a more cogent form. Moreover, a regional analysis of the problem would have given him an added advantage since there is very little work on the maritime threats in South and South East Asia, especially by Indian maritime practitioners.