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Enhancing Port and Harbour Security with Unmanned Surface Vehicle Technology

George Galdorisi
RUSI Defence Systems, 3 December 2020
National Security, Resilience
Initial trials at the Port of Los Angeles suggest that unmanned surface vehicles offer significant benefits over traditional solutions to providing round-the-clock security coverage for the ports and harbours that underpin the global economy.

In August 2020, deadly explosions decimated the Beirut harbour. Over 200 people were killed and more than 6,000 injured. The port is still largely unusable. The catastrophe highlighted the importance of ports and harbours to the global commerce that is the lifeblood of the world economy. Whether the port is used primarily for military ships, civilian vessels or both, having a harbour rendered unusable for even a short time has enormous consequences.

Ships carrying the world’s seaborne trade help drive globalisation. However, these ships depend on access to the world’s ports and harbours. From Shanghai, to Singapore, to Hong Kong, to Antwerp, to Shenzhen, to Los Angeles, these mega-ports, as well as hundreds of smaller ports, are nodes that enable and sustain world prosperity. A disaster in one of these ports similar to what happened in Beirut could close the port for an indeterminate time.

The magnitude of providing comprehensive security for an average size port – let alone some of the world’s mega-ports – is a daunting challenge for those with stewardship over ports and harbours. Port authorities must ensure security around the clock and in all kinds of weather. This task includes continuous inspection of port assets, threat detection and security response, ongoing surveys to ensure navigable waterways, on-demand inspections after storms or other disasters, as well as other missions.

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