There is growing awareness that the vast resources and potential in the Gulf of Guinea are being undermined by multifaceted domestic, regional and international threats and vulnerabilities. Rather than contributing to stability and economic prosperity for countries in this sub-region, pervasive insecurity in this resource-laden maritime environment has resulted in more than $2 billion in annual financial losses, significantly constrained investment and economic prospects, growing crime and potentially adverse political consequences. Historically, the concept of security has had two broad characteristics in many African countries. First, security has been associated with the perpetuation of a regime and not necessarily the welfare of a country and its inhabitants. Secondly, the focus has been primarily land-centric, because regime security has seldom had a maritime dimension. Consequently, maritime security arrangements in the Gulf of Guinea are under-resourced and have received scant policy attention.
A number of recent national and regional initiatives suggest a paradigm shift, as African countries, commercial entities, non-governmental organizations, and other stakeholders increasingly recognize the wide-ranging benefits of enhanced maritime security. This article provides an overview of maritime security threats in the Gulf of Guinea and evaluates the efficacy of recent efforts to address them. The article concludes by briefly examining key national and global implications of improved maritime security in this sub-region.
Threats and Vulnerabilities in the Gulf of Guinea’s Maritime Domain
For the purpose of this article, the Gulf of Guinea is defined as the 11 coastal countries along the West and Central African countries that lie between Ghana and Angola .This sub-region has a coastline of some 5,500 kilometers, roughly the size of the Gulf of Mexico. The maritime domain may be described as “all areas and things of, on, under, relating to, adjacent to, or bordering on a sea, ocean, or other navigable waterway, including all maritime related activities, infrastructure, people, cargo, and vessels and other conveyances.” In terms of geographical scope, the maritime domain could be defined as (a) territorial waters, 12 nautical miles from the coast; (b) contiguous zone or coastal waters, 24 nautical miles from the coast; and (c) the exclusive economic zone or EEZ, 200 nautical miles from the coast. Exerting effective and sustained governance over this vast maritime domain is the daunting task facing countries in this sub-region. Maritime security relates to prevention of unlawful acts in the maritime domain, whether they directly impact the country or region in question, or the perpetrators are in transit.
Poaching. An inability to exercise control over their maritime domain has made it difficult for Gulf of Guinea states to enjoy the full benefits of the significant fisheries resources in their EEZ. Recent studies suggest that poaching by vessels from Asia, Europe and other parts of Africa costs the sub-region some $370 million annually. In addition to the financial losses, poaching also has human security costs. Households and individuals are affected directly via reduced availability of seafood in local markets. Data from the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) indicates that fish accounts for most of the protein intake in most countries—in Ghana it is 63%, Equatorial Guinea (62%) and Sao Tome and Principe (62%). Poaching also has a number of indirect effects, including the drastic reduction of incomes and loss of means of livelihood in fishing communities.
Piracy. The International Maritime Bureau ranks the Gulf of Guinea as one of the most troubled global waterways. Since the late 1990s, this sub-region consistently ranked among the top piracy hot spots worldwide. Between 2002 and 2004, piracy attacks in this sub-region exceeded recorded incidents in the rest of the continent. While there is some debate about definitional issues (including the inclusion of certain categories of petty theft) and data reliability, there is broad consensus that criminal activity in this part of the continent is worrisome. The charts illustrate that unlike most other parts of the continent, the vast majority of these attacks resulted in an actual boarding.
National and trans-national crime. Growing crime complicates the tenuous security climate in this sub-region’s maritime domain. Poor maritime governance significantly facilitates oil theft (also referred to as “illegal bunkering” in some literature) in the Niger Delta region, with dire regional ramifications. This highly organized activity costs the sub-region around $1.2 billion every year in lost revenue. In addition, the criminal gangs responsible for oil theft contribute to the proliferation of small arms and light weapons in the region. Recent evidence suggests that the weaponry is becoming more sophisticated and lethal as the criminal gangs seek to evade national law enforcement personnel.
Another criminal trend worth noting is the transshipment of narcotics. The Gulf of Guinea is becoming a major narco-trafficking hub. A significant amount of high-grade cocaine seized in what Spanish authorities have dubbed “the new drug triangle between Cape Verde, the Canary Islands and Madeira” was routed via the Gulf of Guinea, in vessels manned by crews from the sub-region.
Disputed Boundaries. Enduring disagreements over maritime boundaries could precipitate armed conflict, particularly when the disputed areas have significant economic potential or are strategic transportation hubs.
These disputes also make it much more difficult for countries in the sub-region to address shared security challenges in a collaborative manner. Examples of maritime disputes in the Gulf of Guinea include those between: Nigeria and Cameroon over the Bakassi Peninsula; Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon over an island at the mouth of the Ntem River; and Gabon and Equatorial Guinea over the Mbane Island and Corisco Bay boundaries.
Environmental degradation. Pollution and environmental degradation are relatively unchecked in the Gulf of Guinea. The 2005 Abuja Declaration reiterates issues highlighted in analysis by the Food and Agricultural Organization, which indicates that a mismanagement of fisheries resources in the sub-region has led to stock depletion, distorted ecological balance and environmental degradation. Less than 25 percent of the countries in this sub-region have ratified the 1990 Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Cooperation. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association (IPIECA)—the oil industry’s focal point for communication—are working with African governments to encourage the ratification and implementation of relevant conventions. Their objectives in the Gulf of Guinea are articulated in the Convention for Co-operation in the Protection and Development of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the West and Central African Region (WACAF or Abidjan Convention). Although the petroleum industry has been singled out as a major polluter in a lot of literature, improper domestic and industrial waste disposal also poses a significant threat.
Maritime domain awareness. As mentioned earlier, the traditional land-centric approach to security in the sub-region contributed to a systemic neglect of maritime forces in both absolute and relative terms. It is, therefore, not surprising that countries in the sub-region are unaware of most traffic and activities in their territorial waters. Basic equipment (such as functioning surveillance systems), materiel (including patrol craft) and trained personnel are in short supply. According to data published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, patrol boats are deficient in the sub-region, with most listed assets categorized as “unseaworthy” in Angola, Benin, Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Poor maritime domain awareness undermines security by making it possible for criminals to operate with impunity thereby jeopardizing safety.
Legislative and judicial arrangements. While countries in this sub-region are signatories to most relevant international conventions, very few have taken concrete measures to ratify and institutionalize these protocols domestically. Creating and enforcing the necessary provisions would require sustained political will, the enactment of enabling legislation, the strengthening of relevant institutions and enforcement mechanisms, and devoting adequate financial and human resources to maritime security. This vulnerability is highlighted in local media reports about poachers apprehended in the sub-region, who often have to be released after paying only minimal fines because the country in question did not have the right laws on their books. However, even when appropriate laws exist (as they do in most countries), the ability to effectively prosecute depends on the strength and independence of the judiciary. In most cases a combination of corruption, inefficiency and capacity constraints compromise the effectiveness of the judicial system.
Weak infrastructure. Most port and surveillance infrastructure is in need of repair, upgrading or replacement. Failure to pay sufficient attention to this crucial aspect of maritime security over the years is partly responsible for the current state of affairs. According to IMO progress reports, countries in this sub-region are yet to fully comply with standards for port safety and security outlined in the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code, to which all countries are signatories. In addition, an estimated 85 percent of vessels registered in Gulf of Guinea states are more than 20 years old, making them more susceptible to accidents the global average for vessels more than 20 years old is only 15 percent.
To be concluded
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