Innovation Solutions to Filling-in the Ships, Ports and Maritime Infrastructures Underwater Security Capability Gaps

By Captain Ioannis Androulakis / MANIBUS OOD (UnderSec Project partner) Managing Director

Maritime security, including the underwater, is of paramount importance, to assure the smooth and safe transportation of goods and people to/ from ports, as well as to preserve uninterrupted operations of critical coastal-based/ river-based/ offshore maritime infrastructures. Maritime security refers to a multidimensional operational environment, as security threats may derive from literally everywhere. Although a lot of effort has been put and numerous systems have been developed and support the above the sea surface operations, very few have been implemented for the underwater.

To that end, and taking into consideration the complexity and harshness of the underwater environment, the development of a sophisticated/ innovative system to support maritime operators underwater security operations is essential.

Driven from experience and the security occurrences of the past, mostly those related to terrorists’ acts, the international community (UN, IMO, EU, etc.) put the issue on top priority in its agenda and established a robust legal and regulatory framework (Fig. 1) for States’, Organisations’, and individual Actors’ compliance.
According to this framework, the continuous security risk assessment, by subject matter experts, is a fundamental requirement. New/ emerging security threats and their trends, in close relation to the identified ships and ports vulnerabilities, must be always taken into consideration. Ship Security Plans (SSP) and Port Facilities Security Plans (PFSP) should always be updated accordingly. However, as Nicolo Machiavelli said in his Prince, “Humans, by nature, have the flaw to be complacent in good weather and not prepare themselves for the storm”, and as such, the underestimation of the underwater threats results to security capabilities gaps.

Hence, a new/updated security risk assessment is necessary and it may include the following assessed underwater threats: Illicit/ dangerous acts (terrorist acts and sabotage, including mining, with the intention of multiple casualties’ or significant disruptions’ effects, smuggling of illegal goods and substances, unauthorised access to ships and ports, with considered illegal/ malevolent intentions), criminal actors like terrorists, saboteurs, smugglers and their instruments ( humans (diver intruders), manned and unmanned underwater vehicles (UV), ships/ boats intentionally or unintentionally carrying illicit and/ or dangerous goods/ objects, transforming the ship into a “mule” or a “weapon”, towed (underwater) objects by a ship/boat, strapped/ attached object to ship’s hull, hidden object in/behind ship’s hull (i.e. water inlets, rudder trunk, propeller shaft etc.)), illicit and dangerous goods/ objects (drugs, chemicals, biological agents, radiological/radioactive material, nuclear material, explosives (mines ,dirty bombs, IEDs)). These threats must be examined against own ship and port vulnerabilities, which may include the following: Restricted access areas/ spots, waterside adjacent areas, facilities entrances and entrance routes, operations terminals, critical assets mooring areas, security response assets mooring areas, attractive ships to malevolent acts and their mooring areas, and many more depending on the facility.

The implementation of fundamental security functions like “Prevent”, “Detect”, “Respond”, and “Remedy”, to control security risks and respond to breaches of security and security occurrences, is necessary, for ships, ports and critical maritime infrastructures safety and integrity assurance. However, some Security Practitioners’ Capabilities Gaps (to implement their Mission effectively) have been identified and need to be filled-in accordingly. These Capabilities Gaps derive from the DOTMLPF factor structure analysis (Fig. 2, 3). This analysis highlights that, in many cases, there is a serious underestimation of the underwater security threats and this is the most important reason for the consequent Gaps identified in Doctrine, Organisational structure, Training of personnel, Material and technologies employed, Leadership’s drives, orientation and education, Personnel’s adequacy, quality and suitability, and Facilities structure, to be ready to prevent, detect, respond and remedy breaches of security and security occurrences related to the underwater threats.

The solution: an innovative ships, ports and critical maritime infrastructures Underwater Security System and its security domains.

European Commission requires the research and development of innovative security solutions, to help out crews and security personnel to fill-in these security capability gaps. UnderSec project is a HORIZON EUROPE R&D funded project (https://undersec-project.eu/) (https://cordis.europa.eu/project/id/101121288) aligned to this direction.

The multinational and interdisciplinary UnderSec project team, consisting of experts in the maritime security and underwater security domain, research/ academic institutions, technology providers, auditing and inspections organisations, end-users from the Coast Guard, Borders Control, and Port Authorities sectors, will develop a modular, holistic approach, integrated, interoperable, and cyber-secure Prototype System, to enhance underwater security operations of ships, ports and maritime infrastructures.

The UnderSec system will incorporate multimodal sensors (i.e. optical (visual and LiDAR), EM, acoustic (i.e. high frequency Sonars, Side Scan Sonars and Forward Looking Sonars), and Gamma-Ray Spectrometers), fixed and/ or integrated onboard robotic assets (i.e. Autonomous Surface Vehicle (ASV), Light Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (LAUV) and Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicles (ROV)), assisted by multimodal AI, ML, DL and Digital Twins techniques. The system will integrate Security Risk Assessment and Crisis Classification SW engines and services, for ships’, ports’ and maritime infrastructures’ Underwater Security Situational Awareness and Decision-Making Support, Common Operational Picture generation and distribution to all interested stakeholders, along with relevant Command/ Control/ Communication/ Response/ Reporting capabilities.

UnderSec system as a whole will be tested and evaluated during real-life Pilot Use Case (PUC) demonstrations in real operational environments. The expected results are the establishment of new knowledge, innovative and beyond the current State-of-the-Art solutions, advanced processes for the enhancement of underwater security operations and the consequent regulatory framework upgrade suggestions.

The UnderSec system security domains are the following:
Security intelligence information exploitation: Manual inputs from Users regarding existing intelligence, ports security level 1, 2 or 3 and relevant system’s sensors and assets readiness and alertness level.

Situational awareness: Continuous 24/7underwater security surveillance against potential intruders divers, hostile underwater vehicles and illicit/ dangerous containers towed by ships, on-demand ships’ hulls scanning/ inspection, for the best possible detection/ recognition/ classification of strapped, attached, hidden or misplaced illicit (i.e. narcotics) and dangerous (i.e. CRNE) material, underwater inspections of ports’ entrances, seabed and docking places foundation, for the best possible detection/ recognition/ classification of dangerous containers (i.e. CRNE packages, IEDs and/or dirty bombs) at these places, alarming and representation on a map of what/where/when, tracking of threats, incidents’ evolvement updates in real-time.

Decision-making support / suggestion for action: Suggestions on security personnel emergency response actions, according to SSP, PFSP and SOPs, for security breaches and security incidents escalation prevention, response to security incidents, deterrence and suppression of security threats, actions to remedy situations, as well as security personnel accountability monitoring.

Emergency response and contingency plans and check lists implementation support: Preventive actions support, deterrent and response measures implementation, against perceived and recognized threats, in order to prevent or respond to illicit acts and avoid undesired escalation of security incidents, as well as the retrieval, capturing and manipulation of previously recognised/ classified dangerous objects, without the involvement of divers.

Communication and reporting support: Real time cross-communication and situational awareness updates to all interested parties, regarding essential information for situation escalation and progress updates throughout the timeline. Formal reporting processes’ implementation support with relevant suggestions at the local tactical level and external with the Company and the Authorities at the operational level, according to Policies and SOPs.

Records keeping and protection of evidences: Collection, recording, maintenance, preservation of security incidents’ data and protection of evidences (such as video footages, audio records, chronological data closely aligned with and cross-referenced against information from the vessel’s or organization’s legacy systems, for future needs of incidents’ investigation, root cause analysis, corrective/ preventive actions, lessons learnt and training processes.

UnderSec system’s added value will be the filling-in of the identified users Capabilities Gaps and the overall underwater security operations enhancement (Fig. 4).
Individual technologies will be tested, compared with each other and pre-evaluated in a controlled testing and experimentation environment, while the modular components and the UnderSec system as a whole will be tested and evaluated during real-life Pilot Use Case (PUC) scenarios in real operational environments in a two phased demonstrations series by the end of the project (on summer 2026). The expected results are the establishment of new knowledge in the underwater security domain, innovative and beyond the current State-of-the-Art solutions, advanced processes for the enhancement of underwater security operations and the consequent regulatory framework upgrade suggestions, as well as an UnderSec, modular or system as a whole, solution uptake plan for commercial exploitation in an optimum cost/benefit approach.

As the security threats are growing bigger in quantity and severity, criminals utilize more sophisticated tools and implement unprecedented modus operandi, exploiting the underwater domain to remain undetected and have the advantage of surprise, innovative ships, ports and maritime infrastructures underwater security systems, providing for situational awareness, early warning and alarming, deterrent and response/ remedy capabilities, decision-making support and evidences protection, will be more and more required.