The Thai Government recognizes that maritime security could not be handled by any one agency alone. In order to ensure safety of the seas, the Office of the National Security Council approved the establishment of the Thai Maritime Law Enforcement Coordinating Center or THAI-MECC on 17 March 1997. It is located at the Navy Operations Center and operates under the Office of the National Security Council’s guidance. It was officially declared operational on 9 January 1998.
THAI-MECC is led by the Royal Thai Navy as the focal point, with another five law enforcement agencies, namely, the Royal Thai Marine Police, Customs Department, Maritime Department, Department of Fisheries and the Coastal and Maritime Resources Department.
The objective of THAI-MECC is to be a coordinating center for the protection of national maritime interests. It is also intended to be the center responsible for coordinating various maritime-related organizations to ensure a clear direction of maritime operations, reduce task duplication, and to facilitate a continuous exchange of information between the agencies.
The tasks of THAI-MECC mandated by the government include protection against and prevention of piracy and armed robbery at sea, preventing slavery and human trafficking, illegal migrants, smuggling, narcotics, dual-use items under UN conventions, illegal fishing as well as engaging in anti-terrorism, disaster relief, search and rescue, and environmental laws. The Area of Operations is divided into three areas within the responsibility of THAI-MECC Area Coordinating Center (THAI-MECC ACC). The six agencies in the area conduct maritime security operations by using their maritime power act under the control and coordination from the THAI-MECC ACC.
18 years of experience in operating the THAI-MECC has shown that the current THAI-MECC as an ad-hoc organization with only a coordinating power is insufficient for effective interoperability between the agencies. As such, the way forward is to improve THAI-MECC, transforming it into a stronger entity. It would be renamed as Thailand Maritime Laws Enforcement Administration Center (THAI-MLEAC) and would serve as aCoordinating Coastguard. However, separate legislation and reorganization of THAI-MECC, as well as Law Enforcement Task Forces, would be required.
This upgrade to THAI-MECC is being carried out in three areas. Firstly, the Administrative Authority is to be improved by enacting a new Maritime Power bill which is slated for National Assembly approval by the end of 2017. The act will empower THAI-MLEAC to have full authority at sea, having its own budget and a combined maritime task force. The second area envisages the improvement of existing THAI-MECC infrastructure, based on initial preparations made since 2015, and to upgrade the headquarters of the joint operations center and maritime Information Sharing Center, for which all construction has already been completed. In addition to those, the Maritime Information Sharing System (MISS) software is already up and running, being manned by personnel from all six agencies. The final, third area of improvement involves Operational Preparation, envisaging the promulgation of standard operating procedures between the six agencies.
THAI-MECC is well on track to be upgraded to THAI-MLEAC—which will be empowered with full authority at sea. The key to its effectiveness would be to establish an operations center that can give the commander a clear picture to understand the maritime environment and make the right decision. The Maritime Domain Awareness system is required to improve and fill the gap of situation awareness. Meanwhile, the Thai Government is also seeking any new partners to participate in this endeavor with the common goal of making the seas safe and secure for everyone.
In the foreseeable future, along with the upcoming changes, maritime security coordination among internal and international agencies, especially between ASEAN members, is vital for ensuring the security, prosperity, and sustainability of the regional waters.
* Captain Panuphun Rakkeo is Deputy Director Maritime Law Enforcement Operations Division, at the Office of Maritime Security Affairs, Naval Operations Department of the Royal Thai Navy
Republished with permission of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies