Towards Regional Security on Gulf of Guinea Waters

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Each time navies of the African region meet, there is only one agenda on the table; fostering regional collaboration in order to better secure its individual maritime domains and the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) waters in general.

That in itself is not surprising though. The littoral space of GoG is a vast area with a coastline of about 3240 nautical miles (nm) or 6000 kilometres stretching from Angola in Southern Africa to Senegal in West Africa. The Gulf consists of 20 sovereign coastal states and islands plus a number of land-linked states.

The region is endowed with abundant living and non-living marine resources which if carefully managed, could contribute to sub-regional as well as global prosperity. Blessed with a dominant portion of global hydrocarbon deposits, the GoG is geographically positioned with a comparative advantage for oil and gas supply owing to its relative proximity to the world’s main energy consumers and the absence of narrow maritime shipping lanes, straits or choke points.

Thus, the gathering at the International Maritime Defence Exhibition and Conference (IMDEC) that just wrapped up in Accra, Ghana, was no different. Although it also served as an opportunity to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Ghana Navy, the IMDEC with an average attendance of 300 delegates and exhibitors including more than 40 admirals, Chief of Navies and Coast Guards from 25 countries, showed proof that efforts were being made by African navies to develop solutions to myriads challenges in the maritime domain.

The major thrust of the conference was to bring to the table burning and topical issues like piracy, illegal fishing, and sea robberies threatening the Gulf of Guinea region as these threats not only disrupt regional stability but also hinder economic development.

At the event were Commander United States Naval Forces Africa, Admiral James Foggo; Portuguese Deputy CNS Vice Admiral Jorge Palma; Ghana’s Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Lt.-Gen. Boamah Akwa; Ghana Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Major General WA Ayamdo; former Ghana CNS Rear Admiral Peter Faidoo: CNS of Senegal, Rear Admiral Momar Diagne and Congo Brazzaville, Captain Rene Nganongo, as well as Commander of the Coast Guard, Cape Verde, Captain Pedro Santana.

But one of the highlights of the conference was the
deployment of two ships by the Nigerian Navy to be part of the celebration. Captained by Commanders DK Mallum and Commander Andrew Zidon, Nigerian Navy Ships (NNS) KARADUWA and NNS EKULU respectively, arrived the Sekondi Naval Base Ghana to participate in the 60th anniversary celebrations.

Another highlight of the occasion was the presence of Ocean Marine Solutions. Led by Rear Admiral Ameen Ikioda (Rtd.), who is the Managing Director, the company was the only proudly Nigerian firm that flew the nation’s flag at the conference. This perhaps is not surprising given it’s huge capabilities in providing vital asset protection to the oil and gas industry and much needed escort services for commercial vessels transiting through Nigerian waters.

With its fleet of 42 purpose-built patrol boats, which have been audited and approved by the Nigerian Navy, Ikioda restated the company’s commitment to maintaining a fully compliant, globally recognised maritime security solution, adding that they pride theirselves on delivering the best possible security solutions to the oil and gas and shipping industries.

Nigeria Navy’s Insight
During his insight, the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Nigerian Navy (NN), Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas, who had spoken earlier in a panel discussion involving other heads of navies, where he had divulged the measures taken by the navy to protect its maritime domain, now took out time to buttress some of the salient aforementioned solutions.

Speaking on ‘Nigerian Navy Operations and Projections for Advancing Information Sharing towards overcoming criminality at sea, he said global maritime commons have remained a veritable medium for driving growth, development and prosperity amongst both littoral and land-linked nations in the 21st Century.

African Seaborne trade has equally benefited from this growth albeit with attendant maritime security challenges, particularly within the Gulf of Guinea (GoG). This he said is the case for Nigeria, with a coastline of about 420 nautical miles.

Ibas said the country in line with United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) lays claim to200 nautical miles Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and has initiated the process of claiming a 350 nautical miles extended continental shelf, within the GoG.

Inevitably, this maritime space has tremendous economic potentials due to its dominant portion of global hydrocarbon deposits, fishery resources, and several port facilities which if well harnessed are capable of improving the livelihood of the population.

However, he lamented that despite the aforementioned prospects, the frequent abuse of the vast expanse of the maritime domain through illicit activities of local and foreign collaborators has continued to buoy our concerns. More disturbing, he added is the fact that many of the illicit acts at sea are directed at the economic life line of member states, further exacerbating wide scale poverty.

He said: “Recent security occurrences within the region stem largely from non-military causes such as socio-economic agitations and unemployed youths within the coastal communities. Their manifestations include attacks on shipping, sabotage of hydrocarbon infrastructure and maritime resource theft. There are also diverse forms of illicit trafficking, illegal unreported and unregulated fishing and marine pollution which constitute serious challenges to the development of the countries in the region.

“As the lead agency responsible for security in the vast maritime environment of the country, the NN has initiated various operations and programmes geared towards creating a safe and secured maritime space for maritime commerce to thrive. These initiatives are categorised into independent NN operations as well as collaborative operations with other stakeholders within Nigeria and beyond her borders. Considering the wide expanse of the maritime domain and the frequently mutating and transnational nature of maritime crimes, the NN has had to exploit available Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) infrastructure to enhance her operational efficiency towards curtailing criminality within the GoG. The MDA infrastructure is also critical to our collective efforts, particularly as it relates to information sharing.”

Operational Successes

Unveiling the processes responsible for the successes, he said two of these operations include the anti-piracy operation, Operation TSARE TEKU and the anti-Crude Oil Theft (COT) and Illegal refining operation, Operation RIVER SWEEP.

He said that since the activation of the anti-piracy operation three years ago, there has been a successive decline in reported cases of pirate/sea robbery attacks within Nigeria’s maritime domain. According to him, the operation has also contributed to significant improvement in shipping into Nigeria’s maritime environment as attested to by Nigerian Shippers.

Breaking it down he said: “The anti- COT and illegal refining operations also incorporated the Choke Point Management and Control Regime involving the deployment of armed personnel in houseboats designated at strategic chokepoints within the creeks. Patrol boats attached to the stations serve as counter theft responses to prevent any stolen crude from being taken away in ships or barges. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has attested to the successes of Op RIVER SWEEP, confirming huge savings for the nation due to massive reductions in pipeline losses between 2015 and 2018.

“Apart from these two specifically designed operations, the NN continue to conduct policing patrols across the nation’s EEZ and territorial waters employing the advantage of its MDA infrastructure to coordinate and direct the pattern of patrols. The service is thus able to conduct round the clock surveillance of Nigeria’s maritime space using the Regional Maritime Awareness Capability (RMAC) and the Falcon Eye (FE) facilities in addition to surface vessels and helicopters.

“These facilities ensure effective electronic tracking of vessels within our maritime environment whether fitted with Automatic Identification System (AIS) or not. The systems also serve as force multipliers, as NN patrols are more mission oriented with attendant reduction in operational logistic cost. Following the historic tracking and arrest of the hijackers of a tanker MT MAXIMUS by the NN at the fringes of Sao Tome and Principe in 2016, the Service has continued to achieve several successes using the MDA systems.

“For instance, the FE Systems were used to vector NNS UNITY to arrest MV NESO II in October 2018 while NNS NGURU and EKULU were vectored to arrest MV HAWA and AKEMIJOE DEBORAH respectively as well as several others, in 2019. All these vessels were arrested on suspicion of committing infractions within Nigerian waters.”

Partnership

To further enhance NN surveillance and MDA network, Ibas said the service recently signed an MoU on white shipping with the Indian Navy and has applied to join the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) in addition to the Italian based Trans-Regional Maritime Network, which she joined in 2015.

He added that the navy also participated in the establishment of a mechanism for sharing maritime information with regional navies and maritime regulatory agencies at the Maritime Trade Information Sharing Centre in Ghana.

He noted, “these strategic partnerships have the potential to further increase NN domain awareness across both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, with positive impact on surveillance capacity to facilitate NN policing duties. To consolidate the gains of the MDA project, the NN in collaboration with the US Government recently established a regional MDA Training School for joint training of personnel of the NN and other navies of the GoG. This is with a view to steadily improving capacity for gathering and sharing of vital information to enhance collective response to security challenges at sea.

“To enhance maritime operations, the NN engages regularly with various stakeholders. In particular, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Customs, Immigration, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency have been most supportive in this regard.

“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 directly with each agency on modalities for implementation, resulting in the arrest of over 130vessels within the past two years.”

Maritime Offences Act

According to Ibas, “the HSOP was further boosted as a legal instrument for the administration of maritime crimes in Nigeria by Mr President’s recent assent to the Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Bill of 2019. Pertinently, the Act would serve as strategic deterrence to the commission of various criminalities within the nation’s maritime environment and curtail the excesses of syndicates that continue to profit from sponsoring acts of piracy within the GoG.

“The Act also demonstrates the government’s resolve to enforce maritime law within the region towards changing global negative perception of the GoG as a haven for insecurity. To ensure wide dissemination of such legal and operational instruments, the NN convenes maritime stakeholders forum periodically. However, considering the transnational and migratory nature of these maritime crimes there is also the need for even moreregional and international collaboration to boost maritime law enforcement.”

Regional Collaboration

Asides its regional partnerships, the NN has shown considerable commitment to strengthening international collaboration towards improving maritime security in the GoG. In line with the intention to collectively address maritime security challenges in the global commons, the NN has supported regional efforts towards collective maritime security.

Following the 2013 Yaoundé Declaration which adopted an inter-regional Code of Conduct for inter-navy cooperation between Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) States, the NN in concert with other regional navies have instituted measures to check migratory crimes.

Accordingly, the CNS said the NN and navies of ECOWAS Zone E and the Gendarmerie of Niger Republic recently endorsed an MoU for combined patrol of their common maritime domain. There has also been increased collaboration between the NN and navies from other partner nations to boost synergy in addressing illegalities within the GoG.

For instance, the NN-led regional maritime exercises like the International Sea Exercise OPIA TOHA in 2016 and Exercise EKU KUGBE held in May 2018. Other annual exercises like the USA led OBANGAME EXPRESS and the French organized Navy Exercise for Maritime Nations (NEMO) also help to build regional capacity/cooperation for information sharing and maritime law enforcement in the GoG. A combinedlaw enforcement operation code-named Operation JUNCTION RAIN was also hosted by the NN in April 2019. Operation JUNCTION RAIN brought on board various Nigerian maritime stakeholders and US Navy/Coastguard ship in partnership with remarkable results.

Information Sharing

Ibas said increased information sharing between the NN and other agencies has contributed to a 50 per cent reduction of acts of piracy within the GoG between the First Quarter of 2018 and the First Quarter of 2019, as attested to by the International Maritime Bureau.

“The modest attainment by these initiatives clearly suggests that more sustained presence at sea and increasing exchange of critical information between regional maritime partners and stakeholders would be critical for the security of the maritime domain. Going forward, the NN intends to leverage such audience as today’s conference, to strengthen discussions with regional partners regarding a sustainable collaboration in joint operations and information sharing to guaranteeing the security of the maritime environment of the GoG,” he added.

New Challenges

Notwithstanding the NN’s effort at ensuring that maritime crimes are reduced to the barest minimum through efficient information dissemination, Ibas admitted that new challenges continue to unfold due to the dynamic nature of the criminals that operate within the environment.

On this he said: “The intensity and trans-national nature of maritime crimes within the region requires a more diligent record and data capturing of the identity of criminal perpetrators. Sadly, lack of adequate data base on identified criminals has allowed perpetrators of maritime crimes to relocate from one country to the other without being identified easily.

“Some persons who have been prosecuted for maritime crimes on completion of their jail terms have resumed their criminal activities in other countries unnoticed. This gap within the West African sub-region needs to be given more attention and addressed. Clearly, with improved data base and information sharing on persons prosecuted for maritime crimes, it would be easier to track and apprehend such persons, should they continue to live in a life of crime.

“Although language has continued to pose some challenge on sharing information within the navies across West Africa, member states, particularly my Anglophone brothers would need to put more effort to ease communication for improved maritime security within the region.

“Inadequacy and limited presence of naval assets at sea also hamper the enabling of maritime information gathering and sharing. Though the NN has in recent years renewed her fleet with new acquisitions, the fact still remains that the ships are not enough to maintain continuous presence as required to dominate the maritime space of interest. This inadequacy has resulted in information and response gaps making it difficult to acquire a holistic picture of the environment needed to share with relevant users.

“As part of effort to overcome this challenge, the NN has resorted to local ship building efforts to increase the size of her fleet. Other countries within the sub region could key into the NN’s ship building effort to expand their fleets in order to move at a common and consistent pace within the sub-region.”

Ghana Navy’s Vision

Earlier, the host of the conference, Chief of Ghana Navy, Rear Admiral Seth Amoama in his welcome address commended the NN for deploying two warships to celebrate the navy’s 60th anniversary and for other numerous assistance the NN has rendered her Ghanaian counterpart.

On his vision as Ghana’s 17th CNS, he said it is to develop, project and sustain a highly professional, well-trained, credible and dependable naval force, capable of deterring aggression and maintaining total freedom at sea which is critical to Ghana’s maritime security and economic prosperity while maintaining the time-tested traditions of the navy.

He said: “The overarching goal of Ghana Navy’s future plan is to improve on the security of Ghana’s maritime domain. The intention is to position the navy to be able to continue conducting operations across the spectrum of its roles and responsibilities, within the context of constantly evolving maritime threats.

“These operations include but not limited to, anti-piracy operations, anti-smuggling, protection of offshore maritime infrastructure, fisheries protection, peace support operations, search and rescue and disaster relief. Ghana Navy should be able to sustain an increased operational tempo and maintain a capability to answer any call to duty.

“To be able to do this, attention will be paid to the following, among others; total surveillance coverage of Ghana’s maritime domain including presence at sea with ships of high endurance; develop world-class training institutions; enhance operational availability of ships and well-trained crews; collaborate with land and air forces as well as civil authorities; enhance our cooperation with regional and international partners.”

Also speaking, Ghana’s Vice President Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia said the country had commenced steps to increase its naval fleet from 10 platforms it currently has, adding that two offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs), as well as ships for the protection of its offshore oil and gas facilities.

Bawumia who was represented by Ghana’s Defence Minister Dominic Nitiwul said a loan of about $200million has been signed for the establishment of a Forward Operating Base (FOB) within its western region.

At the end of the two-day conference, all navies and stakeholders in attendance were all of the agreement that regional collaboration can only be effective if there is a seamless information sharing.