Currently, the lack of Maritime safety and security in the Gulf of Guinea has had a negative impact on stability, human security, and economic development in the region. Countries in the sub-region continue to lose millions of dollars to fish poachers, rampant criminal activity, drugs, arms, trafficking in persons, inadequate safety, pollution that degrades the environment, and oil theft that plagues petroleum-producing nations.
The government of Gabon has identified a focal ministry to coordinate maritime security programs and established a Maritime Safety Committee to bolster inter-agency collaboration. The Nigerian government established the Presidential Implementation Committee for Maritime Safety and Security (PICOMSS) in 2005, reporting directly to the head of state, as a demonstration of its renewed commitment to improved maritime security.
2. Increased Operational Efficiency
Countries need to take immediate steps to detect, apprehend and prosecute wrongdoers. This requires the acquisition of appropriate equipment, technology and trained human resources, including obtaining appropriate and adequate AIS systems and surveillance infrastructure. Countries also need to develop processes and policies that would enhance inter-agency coordination and domestic/sub-regional information sharing and analysis.
Capacity building is necessary to recruit and retain required personnel. Gulf of Guinea countries have benefited from multilateral and bilateral initiatives in this regard. In 2005, the International Maritime Organization conducted two national (Gabon and Nigeria) and one sub-regional (held in Ghana) “train the trainers” workshops on maritime security. The U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Naval Forces in Europe have also been very instrumental in supporting capacity building initiatives across the sub-region.
Several of the Gulf of Guinea countries are taking steps in the right direction. Benin’s market access project, part of its MCA program, aims to improve operational efficiency by upgrading surveillance and communication facilities and strengthening institutional reforms. Angola’s National Maritime Surveillance System plans to install new radar systems, adopt appropriate AIS technology, and introduce sea patrol vessels and aircraft in order to improve its ability to effectively monitor its maritime environment. The government also plans to establish a network of data collection and processing centers to expedite and facilitate relevant information flows.
At the sub-regional level, Gulf of Guinea countries are committed to collaborative action via the MOWCA initiative. Objectives agreed upon during the July 2006 IMO/MOWCA meeting include the establishment of (a) an integrated sub-regional coast guard network, (b) a center for information and communication, (c) a transit facilitation and “sealed grid” system, and (d) a regional maritime fund to support these efforts.
3. Transparent Regulatory Systems
Countries in the sub-region need to adopt and ratify of international conventions, which would provide a framework for a robust regulatory framework. Within this context, domestic legislative frameworks must be made more transparent and enforceable, while judicial systems should be reformed and judges more accountable.
In addition to taking steps to ratify and implement all relevant international conventions, however, Gulf of Guinea states are also reviewing domestic legislation. Harmonizing sub-regional laws would facilitate policy implementation—for example, the ability of sub-regional states to collaborate on issues like “hot pursuit.” Gabon updated its Merchant Marine Code (January 1963) in December 1994, and introduced specific laws to secure its fishing industry (Law No. 15/2005) in 2005. Other countries (like Ghana) are recognizing that existing laws and regulations may only have limited utility. According to senior Ghanaian officials, existing fisheries laws only affect the country’s two industrial ports in Tema and Takoradi, while 334 smaller landing sites (catering to an estimated 13,000 smaller vessels) are relatively ignored. Efforts are currently underway to make the legislative framework more comprehensive in scope and implementation.
4. Heightened Public Awareness
Finally, sensitizing leaders and general public about the potential maritime security benefits makes it easier to build national/regional ownership for investments in maritime security. Understanding the implications of continued threats also helps domestic and sub-regional actors better understand their respective roles. The Plan of Action adopted at the 2006 ministerial conference in Benin commits Gulf of Guinea states to develop national and sub-regional strategies for increasing public awareness about maritime safety and security, and establish an interactive database and dedicated website to educate and sensitize the general public about the opportunities and challenges in the maritime domain.
As evidenced by their active participation and policy commitments at various regional programs, countries in the Gulf of Guinea recognize the importance of maritime security in the sub-region. Many governments are taking steps to formulate and implement national and regional strategies to address the growing challenges they face. Gulf of Guinea leaders need to move from good intentions to tangible results. It is also clear that no single country will be successful on its own. The benefits of the region’s abundantly endowed maritime domain could be derived through a firm commitment to collective action. A shared investment in maritime security (which is a “public good”) would have far-reaching human security benefits, and positive global implications.
Regional organizations (like MOWCA), international agencies (like the IMO), commercial entities (like petroleum and fishing companies) and bilateral partners (like the United States) could play a crucial role, but their efforts would have limited utility if they are not well coordinated and consistent with the needs of the sub-region. Luckily, both the governments and citizens of Gulf of Guinea states are much better sensitized about the opportunities and vulnerabilities in their maritime domain than in the past, and their expressed commitment to joint action to combat shared threats, with assistance from a broad range of partners, bodes well for the future.