As the fight against maritime crimes such as piracy and crude oil theft continues, Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that the Senior Leadership Symposium, which is a global collaboration between 21 African and 11 foreign allied navies, was recently held in Lagos to find lasting solutions to the menace
It was a global gathering in all ramifications, comprising navies of 21 African nations and 11 foreign countries, championed by the Nigerian Navy (NN) and the United States Naval Forces Africa (NAVAF). It was the Senior Leadership Symposium, one of the sidelines of the 2019 Operation Obangame Express. Held between March 19 to 21, the symposium elicited discussions geared toward finding solutions to  common maritime security challenges by
heads of navies and coastguards across the GoG, as well as international partners.
In essence, the aim of the symposium was for all participating navies to rub minds together and decipher a lasting solution to maritime crimes such as sea robbery, piracy, crude oil theft, Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported Fishing (IUUF), human and illicit trafficking of weapons and drugs among others, which constitute serious challenges to the development of all countries in their respective regions.
On Tuesday, Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS) Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas, gave the keynote address, while Dean Mangold of the NWC made the opening remarks and Rear Admiral Nancy Lacore of NAVAF handled the introductions. Thereafter, Rear Admiral Saunes of the NWC gave a presentation on ‘Navy, Coast Guard, whole of government relationships’, while Prof. Hensler of the NWC have a presentation on ‘Find, fix and finish threats in the maritime domain’, while Captain Brew, JAGC of  (CJTF-HOA) and Ms. Ward (DILLS) and Mr. Serina of UNODC sat on the panel to discuss ‘Establishing maritime legal frameworks and maritime governance’.
Another panel on ‘Naval forces and interagency integration’ saw Captain Schoonover (MOTR, USCG); Commander Atonfack, who is the Cameroonian Minister of Defence; Mr. Bamele (CDI-SEPCIM) and Commodore Mougilim of the Nigerian Navy, deliberate at length. Finally, Ms. Moss of the Maritime Intel Fusion Centre Atlantic did a presentation on ‘Data fusion cell’.
On Wednesday, handling the panel on ‘Regional threat assessment’ were Dr. Bell of Stable Seas; Mr. Sernia of UNODC and Ms. Kirillas of Interpol. The next panel was on ‘commercial shipping operations in the GoG and this was handled by Mr. Large of BIMCO; Mr. Gibson of Shell-OCIMF; Captain Escarras and Lieutenant Commander Parsonage of MDAT-GOG.
Also treated was ‘Maritime security policy update in the GoG region’ by Captain Bell Bell of ICC/ICC, while  ‘Operationalising the Yaoundé Code of Conduct (YCC)’ was presented by Sr. Captain Konan of CRESMAO and Captain Midianzou of CRESMAC.  ‘Execution of combined maritime operations under the YCC’ was handled by Captain Founkoua of Zone D, Commodore Gaya of Zone E,
Minister Duarte of Zone G, Vice Admiral Ferreira of Angola Navy and Rear Admiral  Mendoua of Cameroon Navy and Commodore Bankole of the NN, who sat on the panel. Finally, war games preparation was handled in a presentation by Prof Landsman of NWC.
On Thursday, which was the final day, theObangame Express update started the event before the War game execution on ‘Integrating the YCC into the operational context’ was handled by
Prof Landsman, Lieutenant Colonel Fitzpatrick of USMC and, Mr. Johnson of NWC. After this was the post war games assessment, also handled by the aforementioned trio.  It was wrapped by up SLS review and positing a way forward.
The Nigerian Navy’s Record
At the three-day event, the NN CNS, Vice Admiral Ibas, who opened the symposium, revealed that on the issue of IUUF, plans have been concluded by the navy and the Federal Department of Fisheries for the acquisition of dedicated vessels to contain the trend.
Ibas who was represented by the Naval Chief of Policy and Plans Rear Admiral Beegroy Ibe-Enwo, while acknowledging the security situation in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG), however noted that collaboration between the navy, maritime stakeholders in the country and regional forces were addressing the issues, adding that 30 vessels were arrested last year, an improvement on the 37 and 45 arrests recorded in 2016 and 2017 respectively.
He said the NN had as at December last year, handed over 247 cases to prosecuting agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) of which 51 had been successfully prosecuted.
Suffice to state that the NN arrested a total of 30 vessels in 2018 for involvement in various forms of illegality in the nation’s maritime domain. This indicates on the face value a downward trend when compared with 37 and 45 arrests recorded in 2016 and 2017 respectively.
“These arrests have served as deterrence and helped to support a more buoyant national economy. For instance, NNPC data indicate that crude oil losses from pipelines reduced from N51.28 billion in 2015 to N4.17 billion in 2017,” he added.
Need for Trans-border Cooperation
Acknowledging the need to have seamless borders, Ibas said: “What is even more disturbing is that many of the activities associated with the evolving threat scenario are directed at the economic life line of both littoral and land locked member states. In other words, the scourge of various forms of illegalities, such as sea robbery, piracy, crude oil theft, human and illicit trafficking of weapons and drugs among others constitute serious challenges to the development of all countries in our region.
“In prosecuting these threatening factors, the periodic assessment of the efforts is a credible tool. Accordingly, the interrogation of the implementation level of the Yaoundé Code of Conduct, a major regional framework for maritime security, is unarguably overdue at over six years of existence.
“As maritime insecurity progressively assumes transnational character, trans-border cooperation increasingly becomes the sine qua non in the mitigation of illicit maritime activities.”
Engagement with Stakeholders
In addition he said the navy constantly engages with stakeholders, all in a bid to find lasting solutions to maritime crimes. On this he said: “The NN also engages regularly with stakeholders and has taken measures to enhance law enforcement within the maritime domain. One positive outcome of such consultation is the launch of the Harmonised Standard Operating Procedures (HSOP) on Arrest, Detention and Prosecution of Vessels and Persons (HSOP AD&P) in Nigeria’s Maritime Environment in January 2017.
“Further to the launch, the NN constantly engages with the Office of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation (HAGF) on modalities for implementation while stakeholders meetings with private maritime logistic support companies and the oil and gas sub-sector are convened periodically.
“These engagements foster a shared vision on the accomplishment of maritime security tasks leading to the successful prosecution of 51 maritime crime related cases or about 20 per cent of the 247 cases which the NN handed over to prosecuting agencies such as EFCC and NSCDC as at December 2018.
“The NN’s seamless collaboration with related agencies has helped to create effective deterrence to criminals through the arrest and prosecution of various criminals. Within the past three years, over 80 errant vessels have been arrested for various acts of illegality. MT TECNE and MT NIPAL were caught in the act stealing crude oil from the crude oil loading facilities in 2017 and 2018 respectively.”
Contributions of Allied Nations
On the international front, he acknowledged the contributions of allied nations including the United States (US), United Kingdom (UK) and France for their footprints of support which have been eloquent towards encouraging and bolstering domestic and regional collaboration in practical terms and on sustainable basis.
Ibas noted: “The NN therefore can hardly wait to experience its partnership once again with the US Navy during Operation JUNCTION RAIN scheduled for April 2019. Already, about 20 different law enforcement agencies and maritime stakeholders have indicated intention to participate in the operation.
“As has always been the case, such extensive inter-agency exercise would greatly assist towards the development of organic national capabilities to achieve a sustainable maritime security and enhance the maritime business environment.”
Aggressive Recapitalisation
A force is only as good as its military equipment; in the case of the NN, it’s platforms. Bias agrees with this. On the issue of recapitalisation he said: “It is important to note that the improving domestic maritime environment has also benefited from an aggressive NN fleet recapitalisation strategy which has enabled the service to leapfrog from just a few operational capital ships and Riverine Patrol Boats (RPBs) in 2015 to a fleet of over 30 capital ships and 200 RPBs by end of 2018.
“Despite these modest acquisitions, more ships with prolonged endurance such as OPVs are needed for the protection of critical assets in the deep offshore areas. Going forward, the NN would leverage such audience to strengthen discussions with international partners regarding a sustainable collaboration towards an enduring means of guaranteeing fleet availability to secure maritime commerce.”
Pivotal Role of NAVAF
On this the CNS said: “While our indebtedness is assured to all and sundry, it would only be fair, in view of its unrivalled scope of support, to acknowledge specially the pivotal role of the US Naval Forces Africa Command. The convening of this forum with its thoughtful theme of operationalising the Yaoundé Code of Conduct to include interagency implications and effects on maritime commercial traffic is yet the latest in a growing list of impactful initiatives and interventions by the command.
“Accordingly, I wish to express our unreserved appreciation to Admiral James Foggo, the Commander US Naval Forces Africa for hosting this executive-level seminar and indeed all servicemen and women of that Command and the US Naval War College, for their facilitation. I am personally excited by the foreseeable prospects of the addition of this Symposium among the activities lined up for the Tenth session of Exercise OBANGAME EXPRESS.”
Challenges
On the inherent challenges faced while policing the maritime domain, Ibas said apart from the need to improve maritime platforms for law enforcement at sea, there is also the frustrating part of slow criminal justice system.
He said: “Thus, the inabilities of the GoG navies to fully operationalise the prospects of the Yaoundé Accord to collectively, effectively address the level of insecurity attest to limited multilateral integration among maritime enforcement agencies within the GoG. I should believe that the reversal of this state of affair is the main reason for this symposium.
“Quite undoubtedly, the security situation in the maritime space around the GoG had continued to worsen and its deterioration had remained a matter of serious concern to all of us. What is even more disturbing is that many of the activities associated with the evolving threat scenario are directed at the economic life line of both littoral and land locked member states. In other words, the scourge of various forms of illegalities, such as sea robbery, piracy, crude oil theft, poaching, human and illicit trafficking of weapons and drugs among others constitute serious challenges to the development of all countries in our region.”
Yaoundé Code of Conduct
In prosecuting these threatening factors, the CNS said the periodic assessment of the efforts is a credible tool. Accordingly, he said the interrogation of the implementation level of the Yaoundé Code of Conduct, a major regional framework for maritime security, is unarguably overdue at over six years of existence.
He said: “The distinguished audience would recall that as maritime insecurity progressively assumes transnational character, trans-border cooperation increasingly becomes the sine qua non in the mitigation of illicit maritime activities. In appreciation of this and following significant rallying steps by the UN, the ECOWAS and ECCAS developed a regional framework to meet the contingency of operational coordination mechanism. Its adoption in 2013 obligated the signatory states and regional agencies to cooperate to the fullest possible extent in the repression of piracy, armed robbery, other transnational crimes and maritime terrorism, IUU fishing and other illegal activities at sea.
“Given the objectives of the Code of Conduct as earlier briefly highlighted, the important task of its assessment would therefore imply or greatly dependent on the scope of the applicability of the regional wide extant strategy to counter violent crimes at sea, strengthen domestic laws and regulations, improve interoperability of communications and sharing of MDA information for robust governance of GoG maritime domain. As this address is essentially to set the tone, it is deemed essential to conduct a review of the actions and inactions of concerned entities pursuant to the fulfilment of the articles of the code, in order to have your evaluation work appropriately set out for you.”
Gains
On the gains of the African Integrated Maritime Strategy (AIMS) 2050, which have facilitated capacity building within a defined architecture for regional maritime security operations, Ibas said the instrument and others have emplaced standards for inter-regional co-operation based on law enforcement at sea, information sharing and training, thus further enhancing multilateral collaboration in the GoG.
“Also worthy of mention is the adoption of the AU Charter on Maritime Security, Safety and Development in October 2016 in Lome, Togo. Other milestones are the operationalization of the ECOWAS Multinational Maritime Coordination Centre (MMCC) for Zones E, F and G as well as the ECCAS Centre for Multinational Coordination (CMC) for Zones A and D. Only last week, we witnessed the commissioning of a regional MDA Centre in Nigeria for the training of personnel of the NN and other navies of the GoG.
International Partners
He further said: “In all these progress we recognise with gratitude the invaluable gestures of our international partners. Quite exemplary here is the support from the US and UK Governments towards the deployment of MDA systems in many States of the GoG. Also, the transfer of US excess defence articles to GoG navies has significantly enhanced the capacities of these navies to police their waters.
“Similarly, partnership between GoG and EU through the Critical Maritime Routes in the GoG project has yielded capacity building and technical support for maritime security to some GoG countries. The opportunities for joint training offered by various multinational exercises such as the US driven EX OBANGAME EXPRESS, in its Ninth edition now and the French Navy organised EX NEMO have steadily improved capacity for collective response to security challenges in the GoG. These inter-regional efforts have some modest gains in respect of curbing insecurity within the GoG thus improving maritime trade and commerce across the respective countries.”
Arising from the marginal progress made, it could be deduced from the foregoing that the best approach for the provision of maritime security towards ensuring freedom of the seas within the GoG is the relentless pursuit of cooperative capacity building through collaborative efforts.
Thus, effective multilateral cooperation in the GoG through harmonised maritime security initiatives and legal frameworks as well as joint maritime operational procedure and establishment of a common mechanism for information sharing could greatly address maritime security challenges.
Pix caption : Director of the Maritime Partnership Program, U.S. Naval Forces Europe/Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet, Rear Admiral Nancy Lacore and the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas