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“There has to be a public-private partnership when it comes to port security”

  • There are emerging threats, and one of them is cybersecurity

ANDREW MALLIA, EU Consultant on Maritime Security
ANDREW MALLIA, EU Consultant on Maritime Security

EU Maritime Security Consultant Andrew Mallia visited Mauritius this week to conduct training on port security. This initiative is funded by the European Union and carried out in collaboration with the Indian Ocean Commission. In a Q&A session with BIZWEEK, Mr. Mallia highlighted not only the generic threats affecting ports, but also emerging ones like cybersecurity. He emphasized the global nature of port threats such as illicit goods trafficking and cyberattacks, underscoring the importance of local legislation and public-private partnerships for sustained security. Mr. Mallia stressed that reviewing and implementing legislation are crucial steps towards effective security measures. On the topic of drug trafficking, he explained that port security measures are designed to prevent and detect such activities, making ports less attractive to traffickers. However, the specifics of implementation depend on national authorities and strategies. The objective of the workshop was to address the complex challenges of port security and to empower local participants to strengthen security measures in Mauritius.

Can you tell us about the objective of the training workshop on port security being held in Mauritius?

The training workshop is part of a larger project, which is the Port Security and Safety of Navigation project. This is actually a project financed by the European Union and executed by a number of agencies, including the International Maritime Organisation, but also Interpol and UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime). So it’s an element of that wider project. This particular week, we are working with participants to study a particular process, which is the Port Facility Security Assessment, which is a process that evaluates the threats to and risks posed to the port facilities within a larger port area. So, for instance, here in Port Louis, we’re going to be discussing (Editor’s note: the workshop was held this week) with the participants various ways of approaching it and how to make this efficient and effective as a process to enhance the security of the ports, which at the end of the day is of commercial and social benefit to the surrounding residents and also to the country as a whole, especially in a small country like Mauritius, where the port is critical infrastructure.


The Indian Ocean is known to have an important maritime traffic. Can you share some information on the level of threat in the region? 

I’m not competent to assess the level of threat for a particular country. There are generic threats which we are seeing not only in the Indian Ocean, but also in other parts of the world. Ports all face the threat of being leveraged for illicit trades, the smuggling of narcotics, protected wildlife products, and other illicit goods. This is very regular in many parts of the world. So, this is one thing we’re trying to protect against. There are also specific threats for each particular region. It’s no secret that we currently have an elevated terrorism threat in certain parts of the world.


What we’re looking at are the generic threats, which affect ports in general, but the process we are giving to the participants will then allow them to take into account any specific threats they may have here, which they may know about and identify, and allow them to assess their impacts on the port facilities.


Can you elaborate on the generic threats?

As I said, there’s the trafficking of illicit goods. Containerised cargo is regularly leveraged, for instance, for the trafficking of narcotics and also for the trafficking of other illicit substances like explosives and weapons. These are passing through ports every day, and detecting these small numbers within the large volume of containerised cargo which is being handled by many ports is very difficult and requires good intelligence to profile the risk shipments.


Secondly, any port area has a threat in so far as it is also attractive to local crime. There are many valuable items within the port area which may encourage pilferage or theft. We’re talking about the import of vehicles, which is also sensitive to this type of exploitation.


There are also emerging threats, and one of them is cybersecurity. More and more port facilities are relying on information technology, and their operational technology, which is the technology used for cargo handling, for logistical support. Any attack on these, besides disrupting the port, can also have financial impacts. There could be ransomware which demands payment for it to be released or for the system to be restored.


The use of drones has become more and more concerning to every port facility. We’re seeing right now in the Red Sea the threat of high-level drones. But as we know, we can go to a local supermarket in many countries and buy a drone for a couple of hundred dollars, which allows us to survey an area which potentially we wouldn’t normally be able to look at. So if we’re preparing to conduct a crime, that may be the first step in doing so; looking at the facility using drone technology. These are the types of threats which we are looking at.



Did you have the opportunity to assess the level of security or the basic generic threats in the port?

We are not here to in any way rate or assess what the current situation is. We have had discussions with the authorities and we have given our views on a number of questions they have asked, but that’s an internal process which is between us and them.


We are not here to in any way rate or audit the current port facilities. What we are here to do is provide tools to the local industry, because this doesn’t just involve government. This also involves the private operators of the port facilities. There has to be a public-private partnership when it comes to security. We’re here to help them be able to enhance and sustain, which is the really hard part. Enhancing can be done. Sustaining the security level over a long, extended period of time, requires a lot of planning and a lot of procedures to be put into place. Our job is to provide those processes that will allow this security level to be established and then sustained over an extended period.

Drug traffickers are just like any other industry, they look at the maritime traffic and they say, okay, high volumes, relatively low cost, this is a good way to ship my goods.

We understand that legislation, and the evolution of legislation is very important. Can you tell us more about this?

Legislation is one of the focuses of this project. There has already been an exercise conducted with all the participating countries. There is a process where legal consultants have supported each state in reviewing the appropriate legislation or the existing legislation, if there was existing legislation, because there wasn’t in all cases. There has been the proposal of either amendments to existing legislation or drafts of new legislation to support the whole process. It is critically important that this process is supported and underpinned by appropriate domestic legislation. If it’s not, then the people who are there to actually implement these tasks will find it very hard to do so, because they don’t have the legal framework within which they can do it. We’re now looking at the next level down. Implementation is now the focus. We have the legislation in place, the framework is there. It’s now a question of how to implement that effectively.



Drug trafficking is a very big issue everywhere in the world, including Mauritius. The port is one of the ways where the threat comes in. How do we tackle this?

Drug traffickers are just like any other industry, they look at the maritime traffic and they say, okay, high volumes, relatively low cost, this is a good way to ship my goods. They have the same cost benefits as they do for commercial shipping. They are always going to target ports. The procedures which the international convention puts into place, the SOLAS Convention and the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code, are designed to enhance the ability of authorities to detect such cases should they occur within the ports, but also, more importantly, to make the ports less attractive and less accessible for such activities to happen. It’s a two-stage approach. The emphasis is more on prevention, on making the port less accessible, less attractive for such illicit traffics, but there is also a second stage within the procedures provided that looks at how can we make sure that if such traffic is attempted, it can be efficiently detected. It’s then down to the national authorities and how they implement those measures. The code does not say you must use sniffer dogs or you must use scanners. It just defines capabilities which need to be developed. It’s then up to each country to see how their national counter-narcotics strategy is best implemented within the port.

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