The critical maritime routes are the routes considered crucial to maritime trade, transport, fishing and other essential maritime activities. In recent years, a considerable escalation of pirate activities and acts of armed robbery at sea, in terms of geographical spread, number of incidents reported, level of violence against seafarers, period of detention and ransom payments has been reported.

As maritime transport represents by far the largest proportion by volume of world trade and around 90% of Europe’s global trade is transported by sea, the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Guinea and South East Asia are of strategic importance to Europe.

Potential risks for the coastal countries concerned are that external trade vessels might not enter major ports in the region, a negative impact on the tourism and fishery sector, an increase in oil prices, high shipping and insurance costs as well as environmental hazards.

In 2009, in response to worsening maritime security situation worldwide and following the objectives of the Indicative Programme 2009-2011 for the Instrument for Stability (IfS), the EU has set up the Critical Maritime Routes (CMR) programme to address the challenge of maritime security and safety in different regions, such as South East Asia, the Western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Guinea.

The emphasis of the CMR is on capacity building (providing legal assistance and training) on regional level for exchange of information and cooperation and subsequent implementation at national level. The interventions focus on coast guard, maritime law enforcement with a coast guard function and/or other maritime authorities of selected countries, notably where the threat has appeared more recently and the gap in capacity is high.

Through different initiatives, the programme aims to promote regional and trans-regional cooperation to overcome the fragmented approach that arises from different levels of capacity and interest among littoral states.

The current action consists of seven projects, of which three still active in two main regions: the Wider Indian Ocean (including Southeast Asia) and West Africa (Gulf of Guinea). The fourth active project is based in Brussels, as instrument of support to the European Commission and the other CMR projects.

CMR projects’ objective is to progressively form one global joint action which will contribute to create trans-regional synergies and increase maritime security and safety of critical maritime routes.

Who is CMR?

European Union and Member States

With a heavy reliance on maritime trade, maritime security has become an increasing priority for the European Union (EU).

The 2014 EU Maritime Security Strategy gave new impetus for programmes focused on this issue. Setting out the strategic interests of the EU and member states in the global maritime domain, it outlines the need to identify and address maritime security challenges. It also engages with the need for a comprehensive and cross-sectoral European wide approach.

Following the Strategy, an Action Plan was also adopted in 2014, identifying 130 actions to be implemented in five different areas over the following years. Still in 2014, the EU also adopted the EU strategy on the Gulf of Guinea to support regional efforts in the fights against maritime insecurity and organised crime.

The Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP) is the main thematic tool of the European Commission to improve security in partner countries, complementing other financial tools in particular where geographical or traditional development instruments cannot be used. It is designed to provide ‘assistance in response to situations of crisis or emerging crisis to prevent conflicts’ as well as longer-term programmes relating to conflict prevention, peace-building and crisis-preparedness as well as addressing global, trans-regional and emerging threats, such as, amongst others, maritime piracy and related criminal activities.

RUSI Europe is a not-for-profit international organisation based in Brussels, Belgium. RUSI Europe studies, promotes, debates and reports on all issues relating to international defence and security in Europe and abroad.

Expertise France works to further France’s development assistance and international co-operation policy. The agency supports France’s partner countries in meeting the institutional, demographic, social, economic and environmental challenges they encounter. The agency implements more than 300 projects in 80 countries.

INTERPOL is the world’s largest international police organisation, with 190 member countries. Its role is to enable police around the world to work together to make the world a safer place. INTERPOL’s high-tech infrastructure of technical and operational support helps meet the growing challenges of fighting crime in the 21st century.