Nigeria, Benin Republic, Togo and Niger Republic have inaugurated “Operation Safe Domain II” as a collaborative effort toward eradicating piracy and maritime crimes within their maritime domain especially the Gulf of Guinea.
Speaking at the inauguration on Monday, the Director of Multinational Maritime Coordination Centre (MMCC) Zone E, Commodore Aniedi Ibok, said the Operation was in furtherance of the implementation of the MOU on Joint Maritime Operations and Patrols (JMOP) agreed upon by the countries.
The programme had the theme: “Enhancing Maritime Security Through Collaboration for Regional Prosperity”.
The event holding at MMCC Zone E Complex is from Sept.11 to Sept.15 at Cotonou Port Naval Base, Republic of Benin.
The Yaonde Code of Conduct in 2013 divided the Gulf of Guinea into two sub regions coordinated in the West by the Regional Centre for Maritime Security in West Africa (CRESMAO) and to the East by the Regional Centre for Maritime Security in Central Africa (CRESMAC).
Thereafter, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Integrated Maritime Strategy (EIMS) established the three maritime zones of E, F and G in 2014.
Zone E was established earlier as the pilot project in 2013 and its success resulted in the establishment of other zones.
According to the director, the purpose of the JMOP is primarily to ensure the permanent, joint and coordinated control of the Maritime Zone E’ with a view to ensuring maritime safety and security.
He said that the operation was wholly sponsored by ECOWAS and Member States of Zone E.
Ibok added that the operation was necessitated by the high rate of illicit maritime activities including piracy and sea robbery reported over time in the Gulf of Guinea and West African waters in particular.
“These security challenges undermine the economic development of the zone while endangering the livelihood of local coastal communities and seafarers in general.
“Therefore, the operation will help defeat the adversary in whatever form they appear,” he said.
According to Ibok, the objectives of the patrols and joint operations are to pool resources of the states parties, make the maritime resources interoperable and evaluate the Standard Operational Procedures (SOPs).
“The objectives will also operationalise the right of hot pursuit as defined by the rules of engagement, multilateral and bilateral memoranda to secure the maritime area of the ‘Maritime Zone E’,” he said.
The director said that the adopted strategy would comprise research and exchange of information, maritime and air surveillance as well as intervention of the operational units in case of necessity.
“This strategy will enhance the safety and security in the maritime domain of Zone E through operational patrols and sustained force presence at sea.
“It will also strengthen cooperation amongst Zone E countries’ navies and other maritime actors through capacity building in maritime law enforcement operations, intelligence sharing and technical assistance among others.
“This will invariably lay the foundation for further joint and combined operations,” he said.
Ibok recalled that the Zone E navies contributed similar assets during the execution of ‘Op SAFE DOMAIN I’ in November 2021.
“Some successes recorded from the operation include: the improvement of obtaining and sharing daily and weekly intelligence reports among member states, maritime stakeholders and partners in the zone.
“The successful arrest and trial of pirates onboard Chinese fishing vessel, FV HAILUFENG 11 and vessels of interest such as STI SOHO.
“The operation also led to foiling the attacks and setting free TOMMI RITSCHER and MAXIMUS with their crew,” he said.
Ibok said that Operation SAFE DOMAIN II would focus on routine activities within the framework of policing duties at sea so as to deny pirates and other maritime criminals, freedom of action.
The director said that the total water area to be patrolled and monitored for Op Safe Domain II spans 105,746sqnm which would involve three ships and a helicopter.
“I am trusting that member states zone and regional organisations will continue to support all efforts at tackling criminality at sea while sustaining the joint operations for the betterment of the Sub-region.
“Sustaining the joint operation and patrols will enhance security of lives and property in the Gulf of Guinea, particularly in Zone E’s waters for our shared prosperity,” he said.
The Benin Chief of Defence Staff, Brig.-Gen. Fructueux Gbaguidi, who said that the country had been facing piracy problems called out to neighbouring countries for help.
“That is why the four countries have come together to form a formidable force against piracy and maritime crimes.
“The collaboration of these countries led to the establishment of ‘Op Safe Domain I’ in 2021 and the success of the operation has led to ‘Op Safe Domain II’ in 2023,” Gbaguidi said.
He thanked the authorities of the four countries for coming together to enable the realisation and success of the operation.
“This has made it possible for us to realise the objectives of securing our waters and checkmating the activities of pirates and sea crime in our maritime domain,” the Brigadier General said.
The Benin Republic Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) Captain Jean Le’on Olatoundji said that only the collaboration of countries can help improve the fight against the disastrous activities of piracy.
Olatoundji said that ‘Op Safe Domain II’ demonstrated the member countries common will to face up to the threat in the maritime domain and piracy in the zone.
“I am very confident in the crews’ abilities to carry out this noble mission successfully,” the CNS said.
The Director, Regional Maritime Security Coordination Centre, West Africa, Commodore Richard Shammah, said: “The issue of sea blindness is gradually being eradicated from our minds.
“Countries are now becoming more aware of the great economic importance of what the sea has to their various economy.
“So, for us to have economic prosperity at sea, we must have a safe and secured Maritime domain.
“This operation is necessary so that we can have a sea line of communication and trade and no one country can do it alone hence the collaborative effort.
“”It is my prayers that the aim and objectives of this collaboration shall be achieved because it will also tend to develop capacity with our navies,” he said.