Sri Lanka LKI 
Countering Maritime Crime in the Indian Ocean: Evaluating the Effectiveness of IORA

Theshani Weligamage/LKI | 04/01/2024

Courtesy: LKI

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Abstract : The objective of this article is to conduct an analysis of the existing levels of maritime crime in the Indian Ocean, with a particular emphasis on the blue crimes against mobility such as piracy, maritime terrorism and criminal flows such as drug and arms smuggling, and human trafficking. It offers a comprehensive evaluation of IORA’s initiatives and collaborative mechanisms aimed at addressing the multifaceted challenges posed by maritime crime. By assessing the effectiveness of IORA’s interventions, this study aims to contribute valuable insights into the complexities of safeguarding maritime security in the Indian Ocean, shedding light on both successes and shortcomings.


The security landscape in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) has experienced significant volatility, including a shift in focus from traditional security threats towards Non-Traditional Security (NTS) threats. Its abundant resources and the strategic location among other things have facilitated the occurrence of an increase in maritime crimes or ‘blue crimes’ within the region on an annual basis. Despite the concerted efforts made by regional frameworks to address a spectrum of blue crimes, including but not limited to piracy, maritime terrorism, drug and arms smuggling, and human trafficking, there remains a notable prevalence of maritime crime in the region that necessitates effective intervention. Hence, it is imperative that the prevailing concerns in the region be adequately addressed through appropriate mitigation strategies.

Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) of which Sri Lanka assumed the chairmanship in October 2023, is primarily mandated with facilitating economic dialogue, fostering regional cooperation and promoting sustainable growth and balanced development. Among its various areas of emphasis, the focus on maritime security and countering Non-Traditional Maritime Security Threats plays a pivotal role as it poses a substantial, persistent challenge to the littoral and the non-littoral states alike in the Indian Ocean. The ‘IORA Working Group on Maritime Safety and Security’ (WGMSS), and the Regional Work Plan on Maritime Safety and Security are two of the prominent initiatives that were put forward by IORA to address the issues relating to maritime safety and security. However, despite numerous attempts, IORA continues to face significant obstacles that impede its efficacy as a platform for regional involvement. These challenges stem from factors such as the varying levels of commitment and capability among member states, limited financial and diplomatic resources, and the influence exerted by external powers, among others.

This article endeavours to critically examine the present status of maritime crime prevalent within the region and the efforts made by IORA in countering maritime crime. It will draw from alternative regional or multilateral frameworks on maritime security, that IORA might glean inspiration from in refining IORA’s strategy for countering maritime crime more effectively. Additionally, this article seeks to examine the obstacles confronted by IORA  in its endeavours to effectively combat maritime crime in the IOR. As nations grapple with the imperative to secure their maritime interests, understanding the nuances of regional cooperation becomes paramount, making this publication pertinent for policymakers, scholars, and practitioners interested in fostering a secure and sustainable maritime environment in the Indian Ocean.

Read the full paper here

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