By Derek Pace
Words can’t come close to expressing how much I feel I’ve learned in the past eight weeks. I’m still shocked by the extent to which my work at One Earth Future has allowed me to immerse myself in a topic about which I knew exceedingly little. If you had asked me two months ago what “maritime security” entails, I likely would have said something along the lines of “piracy.” To be fair, that’s an important part of maritime security; I don’t think anyone would deny that. It’s so much more than that, though. Maritime security is a complex web of topics that relate to each other in complicated and often overlapping ways, including gas and oil reserves, coastal tourism industries, vulnerability to the negative effects of climate change, maritime border disputes between neighboring countries, sea migration routes, labor trafficking, the strength of a country’s navy, and the ecological balance of a country’s fish stocks, to name just a few. I never would have thought that so many topics, some of which seem unrelated to maritime security at first glance, would be pertinent in my work this summer. I’ve realized that I love seeing how the disparate pieces connect to form a broader picture of maritime security in the dozens of countries that I’ve studied at OEF.
The connection to human rights continues to become clearer, as well, particularly in topics like human trafficking at sea. One of my projects involved combing through the US State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report, which describes in great detail the state of human trafficking in each country. Although I didn’t have to read every page of the 500+ page report, what I did read was sometimes excruciatingly hard to stomach and hard not to mentally take home with me at the end of the day. The work, though, remains important, and the links between human trafficking and maritime insecurity are well documented. Thai fishers, for example, are sometimes tricked into accepting what they often believe to be a lucrative aquaculture job, sometimes in another country. Ultimately, many of these people are forced to fish on fishing vessels for years at a time, rarely, if ever, seeing the shore. They live in abysmal conditions, work against their will, and are constantly vulnerable to physical and mental abuse by the trafficker-captain. Stories like this are overwhelmingly common, and they don’t always resemble this one. Human trafficking can involve a system of debt bondage by which entire families are forced to work in brick kilns to pay off the debts of ancestors, or a domestic worker in Qatar whose family traps her in the house and forces her to work for very little pay. Trafficking takes many forms.
Recently, after spending weeks researching and collecting and coding data, we’ve transitioned into writing. Now that most everything is done on the data side, we’ve begun writing the content for the Maritime Security Index. There will be nine issue reports, one for each of the nine data categories, which include Coastal Welfare, Maritime Mixed Migration, and Piracy & Armed Robbery. The issue reports contain a broad overview of the state of each issue across the countries included in the Index, primarily in Africa and Asia. Each issue report will also dive into the specifics of the issue in each region; I’ve written many of the blurbs for the Middle East and North Africa. I’ve also worked substantially on the country reports, which provide a more focused look on the state of maritime security in each country included in the Index. Specifically, the country reports center on interesting stories from which one can glean broader information about the state of maritime security in each country in 2019. For instance, I’ve written about the effect of the conflict in Yemen on Yemeni fishers in the port city of Hodeida and the potential effects of an increase in coastal tourism in Lebanon this summer.
OEF will disseminate the Maritime Security Index, once completed later this fall, to various stakeholders and government actors around the world, as part of its mission to reduce the factors that lead to various kinds of conflict. I feel proud to contribute to a project in which I truly believe and that I find very exciting. I’m also proud of how much I’ve grown this summer. I’ve discovered a new interest that I didn’t know I had and developed my research and writing skills immensely. I still have about a month left in my internship, but nonetheless, I couldn’t be prouder of the work that I’ve done so far.