Disturbed by the recurring attacks on vessels, theft of economic and natural resources at sea, proliferation of firearms and its attendant violence in the region, naval chiefs of 38 countries converged on the Admiralty Conference Centre, Naval Dockyard Limited, Victoria Island, Lagos for the International Maritime Conference (IMC) organised by the Nigerian Navy as part of activities to mark its 62nd anniversary.
Themed “Enhancing an Integrated Maritime Strategy for Security of the GoG,” the IMC, which was chaired by President Muhammadu Buhari, was attended by over 350 participants from across the world. The participants included heads of regional navies, coastguards, ECOWAS and ECCAS representatives, top government functionaries, serving and retired military officers, captains of industry, international maritime partners as well as relevant local and international maritime stakeholders.
Buhari, who was represented by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, canvassed regional collaboration as the Gulf had become one of the most problematic maritime spaces in the world.
The President noted that in 2016, about 53 piracy attacks or attempted attacks, representing 28 percent of world piracy attacks, and more than 50 per cent of global kidnappings for ransom were recorded in the GoG.
“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.
“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 GGC 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 (REC), 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 contribute 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 GoG.”
Similarly, the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister for Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) noted the need for collective efforts through collaboration and effective coordination among all stakeholders in the maritime industry at local, regional and global levels to combat these illegalities.
He said, “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.”
Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS) Vice Admiral Ibok Ibas said the navy under his watch arrested 96 vessels for various maritime offences with 13 successfully convicted.
He said a commendable stride has also been made in the Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) project to enhance surveillance and interdiction efforts, adding that the R-MAC and FALCON EYE systems have continued to be expanded in view of their highly encouraging outputs.
“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,” said the Admiral.
Cameroonian Navy’s Chief of Staff Rear Admiral Mendoua Jean said uncontrolled population growth, high unemployment rate, lack of infrastructure, poor maritime governance, instability in some countries as well as a low industrialisation level were problems affecting the region.
“Given the general characteristics of the GoG 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 3,307km 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 1,250,000km2.
“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,” he said.
The Deputy Chief of Regional Staff, Maritime Component Central African Standby Force, Navy Captain Djorwe Koskreo, said there was need for two-level response which include building a regional architecture in order to confront the maritime security problems and improving economic governance and security in member states of the region.
He noted that Resolution 2018 and 2039 of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) supported an inter-regional initiative taken at the Yaoundé Summit of 24 -25 June 2013 by the countries of the Gulf of Guinea comprising ECOWAS, ECCAS and GGC.
“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, and creation of an Inter-regional coordination centre,” he said.