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U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Maritime Security and Navigation


Overview. Maritime security is a global issue with numerous stakeholders having varying interests. Cooperation and coordination are required on a multilateral and bilateral basis along with international organizations and nongovernmental organizations. Key among these groups is the International Maritime Organization (IMO). National Security Presidential Directive 41/Homeland Security Presidential Directive 13 establishes U.S. policy guidelines to enhance national and homeland security by protecting U.S. maritime interests. The National Strategy for Maritime Security (NSMS) and its eight supporting plans, including the Department-led International Outreach Plan, implement this policy directive. Actions to implement this policy are taken in a manner that facilitates global commerce and preserves the freedom of the seas for legitimate navigation and other activities. Continual coordination with foreign governments and other partners and stakeholders assures the achievement of maritime security.

Piracy. Piracy, particularly off the coast of Somalia, has become an urgent maritime security matter. Attacks on shipping vessels can be expected to increase without enhanced international efforts. Pirates have received million dollar ransoms for the release of hostages, and Somali-based pirates have disrupted critical humanitarian aid deliveries to Somalia. An international Contact Group on Somali Piracy has been established to facilitate discussion and coordinate the activities of states and international organizations to suppress piracy off the coast of Somalia pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1851.

Vessel Tracking. Long Range Identification and Tracking of Vessels (LRIT) and the Maritime Security and Safety Information System (MSSIS) contribute to the achievement of maritime security. LRIT is a U.S. Coast Guard-led initiative through the International Maritime Organization (IMO) that requires vessels to report, in real time, data about their vessel identification and position. LRIT will allow States to track reporting vessels within 1000 nautical miles of their coasts. MSSIS is an Internet-based system to share Automatic Identification System (AIS) data among participating authorities. Under IMO requirements, vessels transmit AIS data to shore-based receiving stations and nearby vessels to aid in the safety of navigation. MSSIS participants share the AIS data that they receive, and a more complete picture of offshore vessels results. Originally designed as a NATO demonstration project in the Mediterranean Sea by the U.S. Navy, the Office for Global Maritime Situational Awareness is spearheading an effort to establish this system in other regions of the world.

International Navigation

Freedom of Navigation (FON) Program. U.S. policy since 1983 provides that the United States will exercise and assert its navigation and overflight rights and freedoms on a worldwide basis in a manner that is consistent with the balance of interests reflected in the Law of the Sea (LOS) Convention. The United States will not, however, acquiesce in unilateral acts of other states designed to restrict the rights and freedoms of the international community in navigation and overflight and other related high seas uses. The FON Program since 1979 has highlighted the navigation provisions of the LOS Convention to further the recognition of the vital national need to protect maritime rights throughout the world. The FON Program operates on a triple track, involving not only diplomatic representations and operational assertions by U.S. military units, but also bilateral and multilateral consultations with other governments in an effort to promote maritime stability and consistency with international law, stressing the need for and obligation of all States to adhere to the customary international law rules and practices reflected in the LOS Convention.

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