Regional Collaboration against Maritime Crimes in Gulf of Guinea

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The 62nd anniversary celebration of the Nigerian Navy afforded it an opportunity to brainstorm with other African countries on strategies for tackling maritime crimes, especially in the Gulf of Guinea. Chiemelie Ezeobi writes

Lying across 19 coastal and island states, the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) coastline, which stretches from the waters off Senegal to the south of Angola, is a treasure trove of rich resources. Comprising 26 countries grouped into two Regional Economic Communities (RECs), namely Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS, 11 states with the return of Rwanda) and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS, 15 states), the GoG countries’ total population is about 472 million, with 160 and 310 million inhabitants for ECCAS and ECOWAS, respectively. 

 Blessing 

Covering a surface area of 11,755,258 Km2, including a coastline of over 6000 kilometres from Senegal to Angola, the GoG countries have an estimated 24 billion barrels of crude oil reserves, that is five per cent of global reserves; five million barrels of crude oil per day; 40 per cent of Europe’s petroleum consumption, and 29 per cent of US petroleum consumption.

The GoG is also the primary conduit of international trade and is central to the economy of the associated regions. It is increasingly looked upon today as resource provider and critical contributor to national growth and prosperity of the several nations lining its coasts and even those landward and with no shared boundaries.

 Challenge 

Despite its inherent potentials, the GoG currently faces what is, perhaps, the world’s most severe maritime security challenges. It is faced with countless threats. These include maritime terrorism, resource theft, and sabotage of supporting infrastructure, piracy and armed robbery, which targets maritime trade, and therefore the economies of the countries, human trafficking, narcotics and arms and smuggling. 

But many note that this is expected as tremendous natural resources, proximity to onshore violent non-state actors, and limited maritime law enforcement capabilities leave countries vulnerable to piracy, Illegal unregulated and unreported fishing, crude oil related crimes, trafficking, smuggling and many others. These activities undermine good governance. 

So in a bid to find lasting solutions to the myriad challenges bedevilling the GoG, naval chiefs from 38 countries recently gathered at the Admiralty Conference Centre, Naval Dockyard Limited, Victoria Island, Lagos, for the International Maritime Conference (IMC) at the behest of the Nigeria Navy (NN). For the navy, it was also its 62nd anniversary. 

‘Exercise EKU KEGBE’

Prior to the IMC, there was a sea exercise and it was as part of moves to curb incidences of maritime crimes on the GoG waters, especially piracy and sea robbery. The NN collaborated with France, China, Portugal and three other African navies. The regional maritime exercise was codenamed Exercise EKU KEGBE, with 12 Nigerian Navy ships, alongside others from the participating countries, deployed.

The Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok Ete-Ibas, and the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Abayomi Olonisakin, flagged off the exercise on board Nigerian Navy ship (NNS) OKPABANA at the Naval Dockyard Limited, Lagos. 

While noting that the exercise was also aimed at promoting regional cooperation, Ibas said participating countries included Cameroon, Ghana and Togo.

He said, “This operation also enjoys the support of other friendly navies beyond the Economic Community of West African States and Economic Community of Central African States regions. Twelve navy ships and one each from Cameroon, Ghana, Togo, China, France and Portugal will participate in the maritime exercise.

“The exercise is aimed at promoting regional cooperation and coordination for the enhancement of maritime security in the GOG as it is rich in both living and non-living resources, including oil and gas and fisheries. The GOG is also the primary conduits of international trade and is central to the economy of the associated regions and it is increasingly looked upon today as resource provider and critical contributor to national growth and prosperity of the several nations lining its coasts and even those landward and with no shared boundaries.”

Ibas lamented that the GoG was faced with myriad of threats, including maritime terrorism, resource theft and sabotage of their supporting infrastructure, piracy and armed robbery, which targets maritime trade, use of unregulated movements at sea for seaborne trafficking in humans, narcotics and arms, and the incidents of smuggling.

He said, “It is imperative that an environment conducive for the unhindered conduct of shipping, fishing and offshore exploration and other maritime interests that contribute vitally to economic growth and national development is established.”

The CNS said it was in keeping with this concept that the navy and indeed all of these contingents conduct frequent reinvention. According to him, “Lately, a lot of efforts have been committed to strengthening regional maritime security frameworks for the purpose of prosecuting the contemporary and future threats on a collaborative model.

“This is expected to improve maritime order and governance in this part of the global commons, strengthen confidence of sea fearers and investors, and stimulate economic activities in safe environment. Thus EX EKU KEGBE is consolidating the advocated regional cooperation, which is increasingly the preferred approach to tackling threat migration across national borders.”

Present at the flag off ceremony were the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai; the Flag Officers Commanding, Western Naval Command and Naval Training Command, Rear Admirals Sylvanus Abbah and Obi Ofodile, respectively, alongside other senior military officers both serving and retired.

 International Maritime Conference 

The IMC was a conference organised for navies of different countries to brainstorm on the solutions to the criminalities in the maritime domain.

Themed, “Enhancing an Integrated Maritime Strategy for Security of the Gulf of Guinea”, the conference attracted over 350 participants including heads of navies and coastguards of Gulf of Guinea member states, top government functionaries, serving and retired military officers, captains of industry, international maritime partners as well as relevant local and international maritime stakeholders. 

 Presidential Advocacy 

As the special guest of honour at the event, President Muhammadu Buhari  advocated regional collaboration in the fight against maritime crime, stressing that the recent security challenges in the GoG has made it one of the most problematic maritime spaces in the world. Buhari, who was represented by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, also commended Ibas for the many innovative and forward-looking ideas he has brought to the leadership of the service. He also added that the theme of the conference ‘enhancing an integrated maritime strategy for security in the Gulf of Guinea’, was quite apt given the presence of 38 nations of the world. 

On the maritime issues bedevilling the GoG, Osinbajo revealed that in 2016, about 53 piracy attacks or attempted attacks and more than 50 per cent of global kidnappings for ransom were recorded in the region.

Quoting the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), Buhari said, “In 2016, the IMB recorded 53 piracy attacks or attempted attacks in the GoG, representing 28 per cent of worldwide attacks. 

“The GoG also accounted for more than 50 per cent of the global kidnappings for ransom, with 34 seafarers kidnapped out of a total of 62 worldwide. Besides, the trafficking of arms, drugs and persons, widespread unregulated and unreported fishing activities, severe environmental damage and pollution have remained constant challenges.”

On the need for stronger collaboration among member states, the president said countries in the GoG have since recognised that security in the region was a challenge to maritime safety and significant threat to their economic prosperity. He said, “The GoG is perhaps one of the most strategic maritime geographies in the world. On account of its proximity to the European and North American markets, the GoG has been an important route for container ships headed for Europe and America. 

“Besides, the gulf hosts one of the most important regions for oil and gas production and transportation. It also contains some of the largest hydrocarbon deposits ever discovered. But in the past few years, the gulf has experienced security challenges that have made it one of the most problematic maritime spaces in the world.

“From the rise in maritime insurance premiums for vessels coming to the GoG to increased freight and reduced commercial traffic to the region, it has always been clear that it is in our national and regional interests to collaborate, to tackle the problems that we confront in the maritime domain of the region. The establishment of the Gulf of Guinea Commission (GGC) was an important initiative in this regard.

“In addition, member states of the Gulf of Guinea Commission have made individual efforts to improve the capacity and capability of their navies, and other relevant agencies to enable them perform their duties more effectively. This has been well complemented by the establishment of Regional Centres for Maritime Security by the Regional Economic Communities, ECOWAS and ECCAS. 

“This effort is itself capped by the establishment of the Inter-regional Coordination Centre based in Yaounde, Cameroon. The invaluable multifaceted collaboration of the US and the EU is worthy of mention. And these initiatives are commendable indeed.

“But the destination of our journey to safety and stability in the gulf is still a while away, which is why this conference is important. It is an opportunity to reopen the issues, to speak frankly on the governance issues in our states that conduce to some of the challenges we are experiencing; to explore the prospects of closer collaboration with friendly powers around the world, and to leave here with some concrete takeaways that would address the grave issues that confront us in the Gulf of Guinea.”

 Progress

 Ibas recounted the giant strides made by the Nigerian Navy under his watch in curbing maritime crime. He said the navy had arrested 69 vessels for various maritime crimes and succeeded in securing 13 convictions in the course of two years. He said a commendable stride has also been made in the Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) project to enhance surveillance and interdiction efforts. 

He said, “The twin but complimentary systems of the US Government assisted MDA project of Regional Maritime Awareness Capability facility and the FALCON EYE system have continued to be expanded, in view of their highly encouraging outputs. Furthermore, the aggregate capacity built over the course of this past two years seriously deterred other forms of illegalities in our domain, but for those that dared to brace the odds, about 96 vessels were arrested for various maritime illegalities, especially on charges of illegal dealing on petroleum products, crude oil theft, piracy and sea robbery, infringement of provisions of cabotage laws and immigration statutes. About 13 convictions have been secured, while many others are being prosecuted.”

Ibas also noted that one of the successes recorded by the navy’s transformation has been anchored on the provision of extensive upgrade to the fleet. He said, “With an unprecedented support of the Federal Government, the NN in line with its programme of general preparedness has inducted a good number of platforms, which include the injection of over 350 riverine crafts, procurement of six long endurance platforms, with three more under construction, additional to logistic and hydrographic vessels whose construction has also commenced.”

 Maritime Law

The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), noted that maritime crimes occur across borders and sometimes in areas of the seas, oceans that appear largely unpoliced.

Malami said, “There is therefore, the need for collective efforts through collaboration and effective coordination among all stakeholders in the maritime industry at local, regional and global levels. It was in realisation of this that the government has remained committed to a policy of domesticating relevant conventions for expeditious adjudication of maritime crimes.

 “In my capacity as the Chief law officer of the federation, I have come to appreciate the enormous challenges involved in the administration of justice involving maritime crimes. It was against this backdrop that the ministry, alongside other maritime law enforcement agencies participated actively in the formulation of the harmonised standard operating procedure on arrest, detention and prosecution of vessels, persons.”

 Stakeholders  

 Minister of Transport Rotimi Amaechi lamented the adverse effects piracy, robbery and other maritime crimes have on the nation’s revenue, adding “maritime security is essential in maintaining the flow of revenue for any nation.”

Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, who was represented by the Commissioner for Special Duties, Seye Oladejo, praised the navy for achievements it had recorded particularly in internal security within Lagos and the fight against militancy in the Niger Delta.

At the conference were the Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan Alli; Olonisakin; Chief of Army, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai; Chief of Air of Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar; Chairman, Senate Committee on Navy, Issa Misau; and naval chiefs from 38 other countries.

 Synergy 

In his presentation on “Synergy of maritime security efforts in the Gulf of Guinea: strides made in the ECCAS zone”, the Cameroonian Navy Chief of Staff, Rear Admiral Mendoua Jean, said the GoG region had several assets such as a great economic potential due to its mineral wealth and fish products, a high population growth, a blooming middle class and large port facilities under construction. 

However, he lamented that the region also had weaknesses of which the main ones were: maritime insecurity due to attacks by pirates and other maritime thieves, uncontrolled population growth which is disproportionate to the economic growth, high unemployment rate, lack of infrastructures, poor maritime governance, instability in some countries as well as a low industrialisation level.

 Jean said, “Given the general characteristics of the Gulf of Guinea as well as its strengths and weaknesses, the overall theme of this conference ‘towards an integrated maritime strategy between States of the Gulf of Guinea’ makes perfect sense.

“The maritime space of ECCAS, which is of particular interest to us, covers 3,307 km of the border between Angola and Namibia to the south up to the border between Cameroon and Nigeria, that is, a total surface area of about 1,250,000 km2.

“Faced with the deteriorating security situation in this area during the 2000-2010 decade, the initiative of Heads of State and Government of ECCAS countries led to the immediate operationalisation of a maritime security strategy to secure member states’ vital interests at sea. Today, in the light of the relatively calm security situation in this area, there is no doubt that this security strategy continues to produce satisfactory results in spite of the obstacles and challenges it faces.”

 Developing Capacity 

 The Deputy Chief of Regional Staff Maritime Component Central African Standby Force, Navy Captain Djorwe Koskreo, while quoting the December 2012 Report of the International Crisis Group Report said its analysis of the alarming frequency of acts of piracy and sea robbery in the GoG advocated a response at two levels which includes building a regional architecture in order to confront the maritime security problems and improving economic governance and security in member states of the region.

Speaking on “Developing capacity for regional maritime protection; challenges and prospects for GoG countries – ECCAS perspective,” Koskreo said supported by Resolutions 2018 and 2039 of the United Nations Security Council, an inter-regional initiative was taken at  the Yaoundé Summit of 24 -25 June 2013 by the countries of the Gulf of Guinea comprising ECOWAS, ECCAS and GGC. 

He said the heads of states in the course of the summit adopted the following resolutions: a memorandum of cooperation on maritime safety and security, a code of conduct relating to the prevention and repression of acts of piracy, armed robbery at sea against ships and illegal activities’, creation of an Inter-regional coordination Centre

 Resolutions

 At the end of the brainstorming sections, the participants came up with resolutions that would be put to use in the region. These resolutions included that of GoG member states should institute and develop a funding scheme to support the navies of member states. The source of funds could be annual contributions by member states purposely for maritime security as well as grants from international organisations and major stakeholders. 

They resolved that GoG member states should honour financial commitments made to community bodies and activate mechanisms to finance the strategy, even as they are to contribute platforms for a zonal fleet under a unified command which will exercise operational command and control within the maritime boundaries of member states. Also expected are for RECs to harmonise all maritime security initiatives and legal frameworks through ratification in their national legislations. 

The resolution also included that RECs should develop a joint maritime security operational procedure and establish a common mechanism for information sharing, while GoG member states should develop capacity for local ship building and it’s navies to improve training through collaborative Gulf of Guinea navies should develop mutual trust and confidence amongst each other so as to confront common maritime security threats and efforts. 

GoG navies also resolved to develop awareness amongst the political class on the challenges in the maritime domain and the need to transmit political will to definite commitments, just as they noted that they would strive to implement resolutions taken during conferences.

They said for the development of the region, a strategic approach was required as each country developed a national maritime strategy consistent with the Yaoundé Code of Conduct. To curb maritime crimes, the need to build the capacity of member countries navies cannot be over emphasised, the conference noted.

 Ceremonial Sunset

To crown the event, there was a ceremonial sunset where navy colours were observed and the flag saluted as it was brought down at sundown. After the sunset, the navy hosted all participants to a sumptuous buffet.  At the dinner, Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, commended the navy for attaining at least 80 per cent of its capital budget in 2017, which he said impacted positively in their overall efficiency.  The speaker also said with the successful passage of the 2018 appropriation bill and implementation of the budget, it will further reposition the service to better fulfil their very essential obligations to the nation. 

Represented by Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Navy, Abdussamad Dasuki, the speaker commended the navy for their doggedness in the face of scarce resources. He said, “With sustained commitment on the part of the Armed Forces, we will soon win the war against insurgency. 

“The navy attained over 80 per cent capital budget performance in 2017. This achievement has impacted positively in their level of achievement and other enhanced operational efficiency. The successful passage of the 2018 appropriation bill and implementation of the budget will further reposition the service to better fulfil their very essential obligations to the nation.  

“The National Assembly is aware of the constraints facing our Armed Forces like inadequate equipment due to limited resources. However, we have always done our best to ensure that reasonable provisions are made for our security agencies and we will continue to afford you the necessary consultations.”

Dogara stated, “I rejoice with you in your successes and the growth you have enjoyed over the years. The Armed Forces have a crucial role to play in the survival of our country as a sovereign nation. I commend you for living up to expectations. As you police our territorial waters, you also have the unique responsibility of safeguarding our installations in our oil and gas industry. Your diligence and success in this regard is therefore crucial to the economic wellbeing of the country. I urge you to sustain your commendable efforts.”