The primary driver of maritime insecurity
Maritime security is closely linked to the well-being of the people living in adjacent coastal areas. When coastal residents suffer from violence and poverty on or near the coast, their close proximity to the sea may draw them toward illicit maritime activities like piracy, smuggling, and trafficking. Transnational criminal networks are especially likely to establish themselves along coastlines that are weakly governed and affected by armed conflict and other forms of violence. In Nigeria, Somalia, the Philippines and elsewhere, violent non-state actors operating on shore often turn to the maritime space to smuggle in arms and illicit goods.The coastal welfare score measures a population’s physical and economic security, both coastal and country-wide.
A high level of coastal welfare is closely linked to a well-developed blue economy, strong rule of law, low incidence of piracy and armed robbery, and a low level of maritime mixed migration.
This section is divided into three parts. The first will discuss the links between conflict and physical insecurity and maritime crime. The second will explore the economic insecurity trap and how illicit maritime activities undermine coastal economies. The section concludes with a discussion of methodology.
War and Maritime Crimes
Vicious cycles of violence and insecurity
Sub-Saharan Africa is among the most war-torn regions of the world. In 2016, 10 of the 30 countries in the Stable Seas Maritime Security Index were affected by civil war. A total of 1,039 armed clashes occurred in these states; 256 incidents occurred within 50 kilometers of the coast and in the vicinity of key coastal towns, ports, and other critical maritime infrastructure.1
Armed conflict and maritime crime are linked in a cycle that perpetuates violence and insecurity. Civil war and other physically violent conflicts facilitate and drive illicit maritime activities. Active conflict creates the conditions illicit networks need to flourish: low government penetration and weak control of insurgent territories, poor rule of law, proliferation of arms, and additional networks that can be tapped into to support illicit activities.
Moreover, war is a great market opportunity for illicit activities. Maritime arms trade and human smuggling are especially profitable in environments affected by civil war due to the demand for arms and the volume of refugees fleeing the violence.
Conversely, criminal activities at sea facilitate violent conflict by funding insurgent campaigns.2 For example, piracy and armed robbery attacks on commercial vessels are a lucrative strategy for financing militant groups in the Gulf of Guinea. Since 2008, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has attacked oil infrastructure off the coast of Nigeria. These attacks prompted the government to come to the negotiation table but also financed the group’s continued existence through ransom payments and the sale of stolen oil on the black market.
1 Ralph Sundberg and Erik Melander, “Introducing the UCDP Georeferenced Event Dataset,” Journal of Peace Research 50, no.4 (2013): 523–532; Mihai Croicu and Ralph Sundberg, “UCDP GED Codebook version 17.1,” Department of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University, 2017.
2 Ursula Daxacker and Brandon C. Prins, “Financing Rebellion: Using Piracy to Explain and Predict Conflict Intensity in Africa and Southeast Asia,” Journal of Peace Research 54, no. 2 (2017): 215–230.
The Economic Insecurity Trap
How maritime crime hurts local economies
Fisheries, tourism, and other maritime industries provide coastal populations with opportunities to thrive in the legal maritime economy.3 When such opportunities diminish or are not available, workers are more likely to join criminal networks and to exploit maritime resources through illegal means.
The relationship between recruitment for piracy and unemployment in fisheries is a striking example. Pirates recruit from local fishing communities, among other sectors, since fishers possess the navigational knowledge, skills, and resources that pirates need to execute their attacks. Stable and abundant income opportunities in the fishing sector keep people away from criminal activity, while poor fish catches can propel more people to join pirate networks.4
Stable income opportunities in the fishing sector keep people away from criminal activity. Photo: Al Faxti Fishing, Jean-Pierre Larroque, OEF.
While poor coastal economic welfare enables maritime crimes, maritime crimes also disrupt local economies. Large injections of capital acquired through illicit means have effects similar to those of the “resource curse.”5 Large illicit capital inflows, such as ransom payments, lead to inflation. Inflation in turn undermines local manufacturing industries and exports. The service industry booms, and imports grow. While advantageous in the short term, this effect undermines long-term development and fosters dependency on the illicit sectors.
The result of these dynamics is a feedback loop between poor coastal welfare and illicit maritime activity. As the illicit maritime economy develops to the detriment of the legitimate economy, workers are increasingly drawn to participate in the illicit economy.
3 Ryan Jablonski and Steven Oliver, “The Political Economy of Plunder: Economic Opportunity and Modern Piracy,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 57, no. 4 (2012): 682–708.
4 Mattias Fluckiger and Markus Ludwig, “Economic Shocks in the Fisheries Sector and Maritime Piracy,” Journal of Development Economics 114 (2015): 107–125.
5 Steven Oliver, Ryan Jablonski, and Justin V. Hastings, “The Tortuga Disease: The Perverse Effects of Illicit Foreign Capital,” International Studies Quarterly (forthcoming, 2017), accessed 28 August 2017,
Data and Methods
How we created the Coastal Welfare score
We conceptualize coastal welfare as a function of a population’s physical and economic security, both on the coast and in a country more generally. We calculate the Coastal Welfare Score with four equally weighted components:
Country-wide Physical Security
We used two indicators to measure the Country-wide Physical Security Component: country-wide armed conflict events and homicide rates. The first indicator was derived from the Georeferenced Event Dataset (GED) produced by a joint initiative of the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP) and the Peace Research Institute of Oslo (PRIO).6 The dataset includes geocoded information about specific lethal instances of armed conflict, such as battles between governments and rebels or uses of violence against civilians worldwide. Homicide rate is taken from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Coastal Physical Security
To isolate armed conflict occurring near the coastline, we identified armed conflict events within 50 kilometers of a country’s coast using the same Georeferenced Event Dataset (GED) from UCDP.7 The 256 qualifying events are spread across six countries: Somalia, Nigeria, Kenya, Angola, Mozambique, and Côte d’Ivoire.
Coastal Economic Security Component
We use two indicators to measure coastal economic security. The first is the Artisanal Fishing Opportunities goal from the Ocean Health Index (OHI), which captures whether the demand for fishing opportunities is met on the coast in a lawful and sustainable manner.8 The second is the Coastal Livelihoods and Economies measure from OHI. This score measures the relative economic well-being of coastal areas in comparison to the rest of the country. This score is weighted by the Human Development Index (HDI) produced by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
Country-wide Economic Security
We measure country-wide economic security using two indicators: the Human Development Index (HDI) from the UNDP and infant mortality data from the World Bank. The Human Development Index is perhaps the world’s most influential score of social well-being. The HDI seeks to capture well-being by looking at three key measures of economic and human development: life expectancy, education provision, and gross national income. Infant mortality is commonly viewed as one of the best single indicators of social welfare. To improve infant mortality rates, countries must invest in health care, transportation infrastructure, nutrition, and women’s education across all socioeconomic classes and social groups.9
More details about all of these scores are available on our data page.