Critical National Infrastructure

Critical National Infrastructure (CNI)

What is Critical National Infrastructure?

Critical national infrastructure (CNI) in the maritime industry refers to the essential assets, systems, and networks that are vital for a country’s functioning, security, and economic stability. These elements are crucial for national defense, economic prosperity, public health, and safety. 

The disruption, degradation, or destruction of this infrastructure can significantly affect national security, economic stability, and public welfare. Critical national infrastructure is often associated with energy, water, transportation, health, and telecommunications. 

Which Components in the Maritime Industry are Considered Critical National Infrastructure?

This table includes many types of the various critical national infrastructure that touch the maritime industry. 

Infrastructure ElementDescriptionOwnership and Management
Maritime communication systemsSystems and networks for communication and navigation (satellite systems, AIS, VHF radio)Government and private sector
Energy infrastructureOffshore oil/gas platforms, undersea pipelines, and related facilities, wind farmsGovernment and private sector
Critical National Infrastructure

Why is Critical National Infrastructure Important to Governments?

Maritime critical national infrastructure impacts a number of areas, including national security, economic stability, and energy security. For this reason, some terror groups target CNI. 

National Security

Ports and naval bases play a crucial role in the deployment and support of military operations, ensuring that naval forces can mobilize swiftly in response to threats. Maritime critical national infrastructure includes surveillance and security systems that monitor and protect a country’s maritime borders against illegal activities, such as smuggling, human trafficking, and piracy. These security measures help maintain the integrity of national borders and ensure the nation’s (and global) safety.

Economic Stability

Critical national infrastructure is the backbone of global trade, with over 80% of international trade by volume being carried by sea. Efficient ports and shipping lanes facilitate the smooth flow of goods, which is essential for economic stability. 

Ports, harbors, and logistics facilities are integral to supply chain operations. Disruptions can lead to significant delays and increased costs, impacting industries that depend on the timely delivery of raw materials and finished goods. 

Energy Security

Many countries import and export oil, gas, and other energy resources through maritime routes, making offshore platforms and undersea pipelines key energy infrastructure components. 

Ensuring the security and resilience of this maritime energy infrastructure helps prevent energy shortages and maintains the stability of energy supplies, which is crucial for domestic and industrial consumption. 

The Impact of Security Threats on Critical National Infrastructure

Real-Life Example 

A Chinese container ship is at the center of an investigation into the damage sustained last year by a Baltic Sea gas pipeline between NATO members Finland and Estonia. Over six months ago, significant damage caused by humans led to a major pressure drop in the Balticconnector pipeline within Finnish economic waters on October 8, 2023. 

This incident forced gas system operators in Finland and Estonia – Gasgrid Finland and Elering – to shut down the pipeline, severing a vital link between the Nordic and Baltic gas markets for several months. Telecom cables connecting Finland and Estonia, as well as Sweden and Estonia, were also damaged. Finnish and Estonian authorities suspect a connection between these incidents and the Chinese vessel.

This example underscores the profound impact security threats can have on critical national infrastructure. The disruption of the Balticconnector pipeline highlights the vulnerability of essential services to external threats, causing significant economic and operational consequences. 

The simultaneous damage to telecom cables further illustrates the potential for widespread disruption across multiple sectors, emphasizing the need for robust security measures to protect critical national infrastructure from similar threats. Ensuring the integrity and resilience of such infrastructure is crucial for maintaining national security, economic stability, and public safety.