Maritime Law Enforcement (MLE) vessels are non-naval vessels employed for maritime law enforcement duties, primarily Coast Guard vessels, but also vessels of other MLE agencies, such as the maritime police and fisheries protection services.
The growth of Coast Guard and other MLE forces has been particularly evident in Southeast Asia. There were several reasons for this development.
There is the general increase in maritime activity, particularly shipping and offshore oil and gas exploration and exploitation, which require surveillance and possible policing for safety, security and environmental protection. The regulatory environment for these activities has become more complex over the years, requiring a higher level of training for MLE agency agents.
There has also been a continued high level of illegal activity at sea, ranging from piracy, armed robbery against ships, acts of terrorism in the vicinity of the Sulu Sea or trafficking in drugs, weapons and people.
The third reason is the number of border and sovereignty disputes in the region, especially in the South China Sea. MLE forces are now considered preferable for the protection of sovereignty and their presence in disputed areas is preferred to navies, which carry a higher level of political risk, especially where there are pre-existing tensions between neighboring countries.
Countries in the region recognize that cooperation is necessary for most forms of MLE and security, even if there is no agreed maritime boundary. Again, MLE forces are preferable to marines for these operations.
MLE forces, ships and aircraft are generally cheaper to acquire than their military counterparts. They are also cheaper to operate, invariably requiring smaller crews and less sophisticated equipment.
MLE is also becoming more complex with the growing number of international conventions and regulations dealing with illegal activities at sea. It is more difficult for navies to undertake MLE on an ad hoc basis. Meanwhile, regional navies are focusing more on combat capabilities. Most are reluctant to get too heavily involved in policing duties.
MLE force development has provided more advanced allies and partner nations with increased opportunities to help build the capacity of less advanced nations to manage MLE and maritime security tasks.
Pacific island countries are now facing growing maritime security challenges. Much of the transnational crime reported in the region has a maritime dimension.
MLE duties in the ocean domains of the Pacific Islands have never been more challenging. There are operational deficiencies in the maritime patrols of many islands. Aerial surveillance of remote areas, offshore areas and adjacent areas on the high seas is carried out only on a limited basis.
In the Indian Ocean, maritime safety and security have been identified as priorities for the Indian Ocean Rim Association, with specific reference to piracy, sustainable fisheries management and the need to prepare for natural disasters. The association has set up a working group on maritime safety and security which can sponsor certain training.
MLE training in the Indo-Pacific is available in a variety of forms, ranging from online delivery to in-country delivery of capacity building assistance to residential programs spanning weeks or even months.
Most regional coast guard academies focus on basic training for coast guard officers, but some, such as the Japan Coast Guard Academy, also offer advanced training programs for mid-ranking officers. national and international.
The U.S. Coast Guard contributed hands-on exercises to train the Southeast Asian Coast Guard to conduct boarding procedures and ship inspections. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Thailand has a global maritime crime program that conducts capacity building activities.
But overall, there is no regional institution focused on the professional training and education of mid-ranking officers from regional MLE agencies that enhance their knowledge and skills to enable them to exercise command at the within their organizations.
Through careful analysis, engagement and smart program design, an Indo-Pacific Maritime Law Enforcement Center (IMLEC) would effectively identify strategic interventions that leverage the respective strengths of existing MLE programs and institutions in the Indo-Pacific.
IMLEC would reflect the position that MLE and maritime security are common interests of all countries in the region and necessary tasks, regardless of any discord or disagreement. The center would offer modular training and focus on MLE, but with some attention also to maritime safety and protection of the marine environment.
Once established, IMLEC could also offer tailor-made courses and workshops that could be agency or country specific, or multi-agency, multi-sector and/or multilateral.
IMLEC should have a research function that would enable it to keep abreast of technological developments and how they could be used by countries in the region to assist them with MLE and ensure maritime safety in their waters. .
The main role of IMLEC would be to promote a combined, joint, intra-governmental, inter-agency and multinational approach to the conduct of regional MLE operations drawing on the best expertise and skills.
It is expected to host high-level regional MLE gatherings that foster connections between MLE leaders from partner countries as well as Track 1.5 dialogues on sensitive topics.
The success of the center as a facilitator for the integration of MLE training in the Indo-Pacific would be critical to the success of sponsors ranging from national MLE authorities, national governments and various regional and international bodies – such as Interpol, UNODC and the International Maritime Organization – who are committed to improving MLE and enhancing maritime safety and security in the Indo-Pacific.
In terms of location, given Australia’s regional reputation as a country with a strong civil maritime law enforcement regime, there are good reasons for IMLEC to be based in northern Australia. Australia.
Darwin has deep ties to the region. It’s a growing center of maritime activity supporting the Australian Defense Force, the Australian Border Force, the offshore oil and gas industry, commercial fishing, ship repair and maintenance and maritime tourism.
The breadth and depth of civil maritime security efforts in Darwin would provide participants with opportunities to engage with operational commanders and senior managers from a wide range of agencies. This would be invaluable in generating a common understanding of regional civilian MLE challenges.
For Australian Border Force personnel, it is possible that some of the training currently provided at ABF College Sydney will be conducted in Darwin.
By maintaining engagements with all MLE authorities in the Indo-Pacific, IMLEC would be able to move quickly to develop programs on emerging policy issues at the request of key stakeholders. It would implement innovative MLE programs to build partner capacity, promote professionalism in MLE agencies, and strengthen regional cooperation to better address civil MLE challenges.