By Dirk Siebels
Assessing RiskFor shipping companies, insurers and even regional navies, it’s therefore important to thoroughly analyze attacks against ships. Statistics collected by different organizations are not easy to compare due to different classifications and reporting standards.
Moreover, incidents are sometimes reported as suspicious even though they merely reflect patterns of life in the region, says Kamal-Deen Ali, a former naval officer himself. Given the anxiety of many seafarers, it’s understandable that close encounters with fishing vessels may be a cause for concern. Such reports, however, should be put in context rather than simply forwarded to a large number of recipients, adding to the already existing anxieties.
Aside from actual attacks against ships, maritime operators in West Africa have another important problem to deal with: corruption. Johannes Riber Nordby, Deputy Director at the Royal Danish Defence College, rates corruption as one of the biggest maritime security threats.
Nordby has co-authored an extensive study of the region and points out that corrupt practices, including by outside countries, undermine good order at sea. “Unfortunately, there is no easy quick fix and the political will to improve maritime security in West Africa is severely hampered by such practices,” he summarizes in his research findings.
Nordby’s experience adds an interesting perspective to assistance from the international community aimed at improving security for ships, crews and cargoes. Outside the continent, attention has somewhat shifted from counter-piracy missions around the Horn of Africa to a broader approach regarding maritime security in West Africa.
The long-term sustainability of projects funded by international organizations is far from certain since the political priorities of international partners are often different from those in countries receiving assistance.
Reasons for Optimism
At the same time, there are reasons for optimism. The blue economy’s potential for economic growth and development in the region is getting more and more recognition. Tim Walker, Senior Researcher at the pan-African Institute for Security Studies, sees positive examples in countries such as Senegal or Côte d’Ivoire. “Maritime development opportunities and blue economies are incrementally making their way onto political agendas,” he explains.
Walker maintains a positive outlook, but long-term efforts to build navies remain necessary and are often overshadowed by land-based security issues that are much more urgent.
In the meantime, the crew on the Kelewele will continue their counter-piracy drills on voyages to ports in West Africa. Transporting fuel to the region is likely to remain good business for the operator¬ – based on comprehensive risk assessments and the necessary mitigation measures. – MarEx
Dr. Dirk Siebels is a Senior Analyst at Risk Intelligence in Denmark and an expert on maritime security issues in sub-Saharan Africa.