Global commerce would be impossible without shipping, and wind farms at sea are indispensable for energy provision on land. Yet maritime transport systems and infrastructure are exposed to a wide range of risks.
The German Aerospace Centre’s (DLR) new Institute for the Protection of Maritime Infrastructures in Bremerhaven aims to identify these risks and work with businesses to develop safeguards.
Minor causes can have major effects. A computer glitch somewhere in the container terminal can bring the entire management system to a standstill. Mile-long queues of lorries tail back at the entrances to the port, timetables are thrown into turmoil, goods are delivered late, perhaps resulting in a delay in production at a large company. Before long, the cost of the delay hits seven figures. This is not a fictitious example – shipping companies and port authorities around the world have experienced this more than once. “This is just one example of the risks that maritime infrastructure is exposed to. There is currently no overview of the total risks that the sector faces,” says Dr Dennis Göge, programme coordinator for safety and security research and founding director of the Institute for the Protection of Maritime Infrastructures at the German Aerospace Center (DLR). Through its new institute, the DLR hopes to create this overview for the maritime economy so that it can be used to actively reduce risks.
Activities at sea affect large parts of our daily life
Maritime systems and infrastructures are of far greater importance to daily life than many people think. The image of shipping as the beast of burden for global commerce is still widespread. But there is much more to it than ensuring that TVs from the Far East make it into European living rooms. In addition to shipping, there are shipping lanes, ports, power and data cables on the ocean floor, and resources such as fish, oil and gas: “Virtually every aspect of life is directly or indirectly influenced by what goes on at sea,” says Göge. The scope for problems and failures is as varied as the systems and infrastructures. Experts such as Göge have to consider both safety and security concerns, i.e. problems that may occur during operation as well as external dangers, such as terrorist attacks, that affect infrastructures.
“We need to be aware of dangers and risks in order to counter them, and it is necessary to look at both areas holistically,” says Göge, who has extensive experience in safety and security research. But the maritime world is highly complex. Beneath the layers of private companies, government institutions and international organisations lies a vast multitude of actors. Most of them have been working in the field of safety and security for some time, but more often than not with their own interests in mind.