The Multinational Maritime Coordination Centre (MMCC) Zone E, comprising of Nigeria, Republic of Benin, Togo and Niger, on Wednesday celebrated 10 years impact of the Yaoundé Code of Conduct to West African region.
The event, which had the theme: “Impact On Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)’’, took place at the MMCC Zone E complex, Agblangandan, CENSAD, Cotonou, Republic of Benin.
The Yaoundé Code of Conduct for the Repression of Acts of Piracy, Armed Robbery against Ships and Illicit Maritime Activities in West and Central Africa was adopted in 2013.
It was adopted by the Gulf of Guinea States as well as the Maritime Safety and Security Architecture of the Gulf of Guinea, which was established by ECCAS, ECOWAS and the Gulf of Guinea Commission.
The Yaoundé Code of Conduct establishes the Maritime Security Architecture framework in West Africa and the Gulf of Guinea, laying out a maritime security framework which prioritises cooperation and information-sharing across the region.
The intent of the Yaoundé Code of Conduct is to assist the region in addressing an array of maritime crimes affecting the region.
These crimes include piracy and armed robbery at sea, illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, maritime terrorism, trafficking in narcotics and wildlife products, and maritime pollution.
Speaking during the celebration, the Director, MMCC Zone E, Commodore Aniedi Ibok, said that the centre provided a platform for increased presence at sea and enhanced response time that served as deterrence to maritime criminals.
“The Yaoundé Code of Conduct was established in 2013, to prevent and repress piracy, armed robbery against ship and illegal maritime activities in West and Central Africa.
“Thereafter, the ECOWAS Integrated Maritime Strategy (IMS) established the three maritime zones of Zone E, F and G in March, 2014.
“The countries that make up the Maritime Zone E are: Republic of Benin, Nigeria, Togo and Niger with a total area of 105, 746 square nautical miles up to 200 nautical miles off shore’’.
Ibok said that since the establishment of the Yaoundé Code of Conduct, Zone E had organised two major operations; Op Safe Domain I and II and acquired state of the art equipment among others.
He added that with the support of international partners, the centre had trained personnel in various techniques such as boarding techniques, search and rescue operations, medical casualty response and information management techniques.
“Through information gathering and sharing, the Nigerian Navy and Guinea Navy coordinated a combined operation which led to the boarding and rescue of crew onboard the Portuguese flagship, MV Tommi Ritscher in 2020.
“Also, in 2020 we also intervened in the case of a Chinese fishing vessel, MV HAILUFANG II, off the coast of Cote d’Ivoire where we saved 18 crew and arrested the pirates.
“So, we have been working together as a team and this has yielded much result,” he said.
Ibok said that in 2020, the region recorded 68 pirate incidences but since ‘Op Safe Domain’ started in 2021, coupled with other efforts, piracy reduced to 15 cases in 2022 in the whole Gulf of Guinea.
“However, Zone E, only recorded two cases in 2022 and three cases in 2023.
“The Gulf of Guinea especially Zone E was once named as the most insecure waters in the world but through this effort, the insecurities at sea has reduced drastically.
“We intend to keep the sea means of communication so that our businesses will continue to work and prosperity will come to all in the zone, ECOWAS and the Gulf of Guinea,” he said.
The director said that the establishment and operationalisation of MMCC Zone E was a veritable tool in the fight against illicit maritime activities particularly piracy within the zone.
He, however said that more efficient coordination and dissemination of intelligence were needed for quicker responses for assets, responding to information and activities of maritime criminals within the zone.
The Chief of Defence Staff, Republic of Benin, Brig.-Gen. Fructueux Gbaguidi, said that the Benin used to be prone to piracy attacks before the establishment of the Yaoundé Code of Conduct.
Gbaguidi said that 10 years after establishing the Zone E maritime group which Benin was a part of, he was delighted to state that piracy had dropped drastically within its waters.
“We, however, tried to solve the problems on our own before the establishment of the Yaoundé Code but quickly realised that working together will take us further in achieving our goals and objectives.
“This is evident in the peace we are experiencing from piracy at sea as a result of increased security within our waters,” he said.
The army general said that the achievement at sea so far was also made possible with support from the international partners.
The ECOWAS representative to Benin, Ambassador Amadou Diongue, said that security at sea was essential for global economic prosperity, peace and unity.
Diongue added that security and maritime safety in the West African and Central African region played a substantial role to the development and stability of the international region.
“After observing the effect of piracy in Somalia and the Indian Ocean, we capitalised on lessons learnt and put in place a maritime security structure to guide against further reoccurrence.
“We used member countries of the Zone E as a pilot case to test the efficacy of the Yaondé Code of Conduct and it was successful against such bottlenecks.
“This mark of cooperation between various communities in the framework of African unity has led to a reduction in maritime crimes at the Gulf of Guinea,” he said.
The ECOWAS representative, Mr Amadou Diongue giving a gift to the MMCC director، Commodore Ibok.
The ECOWAS representative said that there were challenges including logistics, legal framework among others but that the stakeholders were working to ensure that such challenges were resolved.
Diongue thanked the European Union (EU), United Nations Office of Drug Trafficking and other international partners for their support towards creating a safer maritime environment for economic prosperity.
A representative of the U.S. Embassy in Benin, Mr Gary Anthony said that the U.S. recently donated 1.3 billion Franc CFA of military equipment to Beninese Armed Forces.
Anthony, a political officer with the embassy, said that the U.S government also invested in economic opportunities that would provide jobs and build resistance to extremist recruitment.
“This includes 83.3 billion Franc CFA for Coastal West Africa under the strategy to prevent conflict and promote stability that Vice President Kamala Harris announced during her March trip to Ghana.
“All these engagements holistically promote national security in Benin,” he said.
Anthony said that the spectra of maritime piracy had decreased but new threats had risen such as trafficking of arms, weapons, drugs and humans; Illegal Unregulated Unreported Fishing (IUUF) and other forms of transnational crime.
“So, let us not only celebrate the past 10 years of the MMCC, but to reflect on the challenges that lay ahead in creating a safe Gulf of Guinea for the next 10 years and beyond,” he said.
Also, the Shipping and Commercial Director, African Global Logistics, Mr Abiala Moderte said that trade had improved because more ships had started coming into the region for its relative safety.