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Global Responses to Maritime Violence: Cooperation and Collective Action

Global Responses to Maritime Violence: Cooperation and Collective Action edited by Paul Shemella. Stanford University Press, 2016, 344 pp.

Global Responses to Maritime Violence, a collection of essays written by a wide range of subject-matter experts, describes the issues and opportunities associated with violent activities in the maritime environment, as well as their effect on a variety of stakeholders, including those not located on the high seas. The book is well organized and logically presented in three parts. The first part, “Examining Maritime Violence,” introduces and describes the problem. In part 2, “Riding the Storm,” the contributors provide a detailed review of historical and current operations addressing the issue of violence in the maritime environment. Part 3 offers a series of case studies chosen to reinforce and validate the theories and recommendations of Captain Shemella and his contributors.

Part 1 introduces and identifies the type and scope of violence in the maritime environment. Establishing a baseline, Shemella defines the subject environment as one that includes oceans, seas, and their littoral regions as well as navigable rivers and lakes and the infrastructure that supports them all (e.g., ports, locks, and canals). The editor completes the baseline by describing the significant socioeconomic impact of the maritime domain on the world’s population. Contributors then dissect the difference between maritime terrorism and armed criminal activity. Terrorism strikes a strong chord with most readers. Acts of terror, whether for political, religious, or financial reasons, command society’s attention. The senseless and remorseless destruction and death associated with the event often outweigh the actual damage it causes. As a result, the fear of terrorism leads one to believe it is far more prevalent than reality suggests.

Despite the fact that terrorism captures the public’s attention, armed criminal activity is identified by the contributors as by far the most common form of violence on the seas. The contributors offer an excellent description of the issues and effects arising from criminal activity that targets stakeholders. They also examine the socioeconomic and sociopolitical dangers and effects related to criminal activities against maritime targets.

Part 2 delves more deeply into the cooperative efforts and options available to interdict and mitigate violent activities in this environment. Contributors address the strategy and tools employed by national and international government, nongovernmental, and commercial organizations to detect, monitor, and—when possible—counter terrorist and criminal activities.

Part 3 provides a selection of case studies detailing incidents of terrorism and violent crime on the world’s oceans. The case examples include a review of maritime terrorist activities of the Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers insurgency, together with examples of piracy and violent crime on the Horn of Africa, in the Straits of Malacca, and off the coast of Guinea-Bissau. Lessons learned from these cases supply significant validity and credibility for the editor’s and contributors’ suppositions. Throughout the book, a number of common themes emerge. For example, the contributors note the lack of consistent governance, especially when vessels operate far from national borders. In some cases, governance is virtually nonexistent, a fact especially true for the littoral and maritime areas located in or near unstable states wracked by political and economic conflict.

Another common theme is that violence on the high seas is a direct extension of sociopolitical and socioeconomic crises and challenges on land. For example, poverty-stricken fishermen in the Horn of Africa may turn to piracy when their primary fishing grounds are depleted due to overfishing or when they are spoiled by industrial pollution. The consistent emergence of common themes across a literary work is an indication of saturation with regard to the subject matter. In research, significant levels of saturation provide a commensurately high level of credibility for the subject matter.

In many ways, Global Responses to Maritime Violence is similar to a textbook. The essays are well written, describing their subjects in coherent, easy-to-understand concepts. Under the editorial control of Captain Shemella, the contributors first develop the reader’s base of knowledge regarding issues faced by stakeholders operating within or depending upon the maritime environment. The second part then builds on the first by informing the reader’s knowledge of the concepts and options available to government, nongovernmental, and commercial organizations tasked with maintaining governance on the seas. Part 3 knits the first two sections together through real-life examples of terrorism and violent crime in the maritime environment. By the end of the book, the reader has acquired a broad knowledge of the issues, complexities, and options associated with this diverse and complex area of the world.

The book’s academic style reflects Shemella’s pedigree as a lecturer and subject-matter expert at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. He possesses the requisite knowledge to discuss the issue and has gathered together a distinguished group of experts to delve more deeply into specific concepts and issues related to the topic. Global Responses to Maritime Violence could easily be used as a primary text for a course in either maritime or homeland security.

Unlike most textbooks, however, this study is an easy and informative read. The editor’s presentation of concepts, coupled with examples, keeps the reader’s attention without coming across as preaching or lecturing. Instead, Captain Shemella and his contributors teach by telling a story that happens to be true. Consequently, the book is not only informative but also enjoyable. I recommend Global Responses to Maritime Violence to any individual—academic or otherwise—interested in the subject of terrorism or violent crime in the maritime environment.

Dr. John L. Mahaffey, PhD
NATO Communications and Information Agency
The Hague, Netherlands


"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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