International trade is facing sharply higher risks due to the globalisation of shipping networks, with future disruptions especially likely to emanate from the Mena region.
Efthimios Mitropoulos, the secretary general of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), said safety and security risks to shipping associated with "catastrophic events" ranging from natural disasters to terrorism were on the rise.
"An event in one particular area has a substantial potential to effect the global system as a whole," he told the World Ports and Trade Summit in Abu Dhabi today.
"It is vital that strategic shipping lanes be kept open under all circumstances," he added.
In this region, those include the Strait of Hormuz, through which passes 40 per cent of the world's seaborne crude supply on its way from the Gulf to the Indian Ocean.
Other maritime choke points in the region for international shipping are the Bab al Mandab connecting the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden and the Suez Canal in Egypt, which links the Mediterranean and Red seas.
All are subject to security threats related to Mena region unrest and Somali piracy in the Gulf of Aden and beyond.
"The strategic importance of the Gulf of Aden is clear," Mr Mitropoulos said.
Because of that, the IMO has placed its antipiracy action plan at the top of its agenda this year.
"Too many large ships seem to think the are invulnerable. But experience has shown this is not the case, particularly when it comes
to fully laden tankers," said Mr Mitropoulos.