By Alex Enumah in Abuja

The European Union (EU) on Monday disclosed that it had earmarked the sum of €155m in terms of support and other logistics towards the implementation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) important strategies in tackling the high rate of crime and other criminalities along the Gulf of Guinea, Africa’s most important sea route.

Head of Cooperation, EU Delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Kurt Cornelis, who made the disclosure at the opening of a two-day information and coordination meeting on maritime security in Abuja, said increased security efforts was yet to deter piracy, armed robbery at sea, illegal fishing, smuggling and trafficking, which according to him poses major threats to maritime security.

The Gulf of Guinea is said to be the most dangerous and notorious stretch of water around the world with 201 incidences of maritime piracy and armed robbery reported in 2018 alone. According to reports a total of 6 ships were hijacked, 13 shot at, while the same year also witnessed the taking of 130 hostages and kidnapping of 78 seafarers for ransome.

According to the ECOWAS report, the region loses an average of $2bn annually to theft of maritime resources and illegal fishing.

However, speaking to newsmen shortly after the opening of the workshop, the envoy said the region remains a priority for the EU, as it is committed to efforts by ECOWAS in building maritime security and safety along the Gulf of Guinea.

“The Gulf of Guinea in recent times has been one of the most dangerous in terms of maritime security. The numbers of kidnapping and robbery at sea is more than any other part of Africa and even the world.

“While there are several EU supported programs committed to maritime security, the biggest right now is the SWAIMS. The EU has about €155m committed to fight against maritime insecurity which encompasses illegal trafficking of goods, illegal fisheries, and other aspects such as policing, information sharing in the Gulf of Guinea,” Mr. Cornelis said.

In addition, he said the EU was committed to supporting regional efforts towards improving maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea and development of local capacities of ECOWAS member states.

The support he noted covers not only implementation of key ECOWAS Strategies such as the Integrated Maritime Security but also the Regional Strategy to fight illicit drug trafficking and the Regional Policy for Fisheries supported by the PESCAO project.

The two-day meeting facilitated by the Support to West Africa Integrated Maritime Security (SWAIMS) and Improved Regional Fisheries Governance in Western Africa Programme (PESCAO) is aimed at tackling maritime insecurity within the region with improved regulation, monitoring and control.

The meeting has as theme: The Fight against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing and the Insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea.