‘Port of call’: Towards a criminology of port security

AuthorYarin Eski
Published date01 November 2011
Date01 November 2011
Subject MatterArticles
Criminology & Criminal Justice
11(5) 415 –431
© The Author(s) 2011
Reprints and permission: sagepub.
DOI: 10.1177/1748895811414593
‘Port of call’: Towards a
criminology of port security
Yarin Eski
University of Glasgow, UK
While public and criminological interest in ports is remarkably scarce, they form an intersection
of (images of) crime and crime control. Port security organizations and personnel are confronted
with that intersection in their everyday work life. In this article I will highlight the possibilities
for researching port security from a criminological starting point. By describing port insecurities
and their regulation, I will conceptualize the late modern condition of security. After this, the
theoretical promises of a criminological analysis of port security shall be discussed, for example,
how recent developed thoughts on security consumption filter through at the specific geographical
sites of the port. In moving towards a criminology of port security, I aim to set the focus on
security in transnational spaces and transport, and to contribute to a critical engagement within
the prioritized criminological theorization of the globalized security society.
consumption, criminology, global security, late modernity, ports
The maritime realms of ports are key intersections of insecurity and security (Chalk,
2008), stereotyped as ‘centres of moral corruption and decadence’, ‘cultural wastelands’
and ‘axes of large-scale international drugs trafficking’ (Van Hooydonk, 2007: 28–30).
Ports are rich, important sites of criminological study, principally because of increasing
transnational flows of people, goods, fears and insecurities associated with globalization
(Graf and Chua, 2009; Levitsky, 2003; Sassen, 1991), from which a holistic understand-
ing can be derived of the essentially contested concept of ‘security’. Still, criminology
Corresponding author:
Yarin Eski, SCCJR, Ivy Lodge, University of Glasgow, 63 Gibson Street, Glasgow, G12 8LR, Scotland, UK
Email: y.eski.1@research.gla.ac.uk
416 Criminology & Criminal Justice 11(5)
clearly missed the boat, as it paid virtually no attention to post-9/11 (trans)port security
(Zedner, 2009).
The current article will highlight possibilities for researching port security from a
criminological starting point. In contextualizing port insecurities and how port regula-
tion in its international context has tried to deal with these issues, I aim to conceptual-
ize late modern security to work towards a criminological agenda of researching port
security. I will also discuss relevant theoretical promises for criminology that lie in port
security. By setting sail towards a criminology of security in the transnational spaces
of ports, criminologists could start to contribute to a critical engagement within the
prioritized criminological theorization of the globalized security consuming society
(Bauman, 2005; Goold et al., 2010; Siteanu, 2008). Additionally, a criminological
analysis of port security can shed light on how security in late modernity leads to or
conflicts with constructing sensible security. An overview of port insecurities will
comprise the following section.
Insecurity in Ports
Maritime security deals with numerous transnational insecurities that occur on sea,
and concentrate themselves especially ‘at the docks’. Shipment via sea and river sys-
tems is still the most popular means of transportation. Roughly 80 per cent of the
entire world trade is done by ships (Frittelli, 2005), yet international seaborne trade
declined due to the global financial crises that heavily affected all shipping sectors
(UNCTAD, 2009). Nevertheless, the ‘landscape’ of the maritime world of trade remains
colossal, covering
139,768,200 square miles, [and] most of this environment takes the form of high seas that lie
beyond the strict jurisdiction of any one state … an area that is, by definition, anarchic [and
possesses] unpredictable and lawless qualities that Thomas Hobbes once famously wrote made
life ‘nasty, brutish, and short’. (Chalk, 2008: 2)
The unregulated maritime realms, more specifically ports, have become the centre of
attention of (inter)national security bodies that stimulate more control and prevention of
threats and crimes. That spectre of security resulted in a shared interest of ports all over
the world in guaranteeing safe passage and anchorage. As an effect, a more unified
approach of securing has been laid upon ports by the International Maritime Organization
(IMO) to make sure ports comply with international treaties and regulations (Wenning
et al., 2007). Largely motivated by post-9/11 fear, international bodies and ports scruti-
nize several insecurities, namely, severe economic consequences of cargo attacks, tar-
geted by terrorism. For example, a ‘disruption of oil supplies through these target points
could have a significant impact, at an international level, on world oil prices, stability
and security, and locally on environment, economy, security, and peace’ (Zaidi, 2007:
310). Additionally, cargo shipping itself contains insecurity to the extent that containers
are ideal boxed spaces to transport illegal drugs and immigrants, for example in the
USA, approximately 10 million containers arrive through ports, of which only 2 per cent
are inspected (Zaidi, 2007).

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