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Troubled W’African Waters and New Conversation on Coastal Security

The increasing wave of insecurity on West African Waters and the urgent need for talks on maritime security in region has become an urgent task.

Thankfully, the second edition of International Maritime Defence Exhibition and Conference (IMDEC) provides opportunities for maritime operators and regulators to air their views, experiences and exchange ideas on how to tackle the trade and economy-disruptive activities by criminals across the region.

Over 15 Chiefs of Navy, Chiefs of Air Staff and 300 international Senior Officials will be hosted by the Ghanaian Navy and Air Force; on July 6-8, in Ghana.

Held in partnership with Ghana Navy and Ghana Air Force, the IMDEC will be graced by the participation of key government leaders including the Vice President of Ghana, Alhaji Mahamudu Bawumia.

Maritime security, in recent times, has become a more important issue in West African region, where attacks on ships and crew jumped at an alarming level, last year, especially, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. This is expected to top the agenda to be deliberated upon by the 15 Chiefs of Navies and Air Forces along with 300 senior officials attending the IMDEC.

Organised by Great Minds Event Management, a global strategic events management organisation that closely works with governments, IMDEC will address key defence and maritime security issues, showcase new technology for the defence sector where multi-million dollars’ worth of deals would be negotiated. Participating companies will be demonstrating their best products and services that could equip the naval and air forces and enhance their defence capabilities at sea.

The Gulf of Guinea is a vast and diverse region stretching from Senegal to Angola, covering 6,000 kilometres of coastline. It is an important shipping zone transporting oil and gas, as well as goods to and from central and southern Africa.

Around 1,500 fishing vessels, tankers, and cargo ships navigate its waters at any given day. Piracy, armed robbery at sea, kidnapping of seafarers, illegal fishing, smuggling and trafficking, and transnational organised crime pose a major threat to maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea and ultimately to the economic development of the entire region.

The Gulf of Guinea saw 84 attacks on ships, with 135 seafarers kidnaped for ransom in 2020, according to the International Maritime Bureau, nearly 50 per cent increase in kidnapping for ransom between 2018 and 2019, and around 10 per cent increase between 2019 and 2020.

The region now accounts for just over 95 per cent of all kidnappings for ransom at sea. The COVID-19 pandemic brought about increased economic hardship resulting in emboldened reliance on illicit, yet lucrative, activities.

According to a 2020 report published by Africa Risk Compliance, issued about piracy attacks, revealed that a total of 147 vessels were attacked in 2020.

The report stated some other alarming figures, noting 149 members of the crew were kidnapped with 27 kidnapped for ransom.

In response, regional Armed Forces are acquiring resources and combining capabilities to effectively address these threats at the 2nd IMDEC, taking place in Ghana.

The three-day conference and exhibition including exclusive site visit will see senior officials discuss and address how to continue tackling the issues of securing the increasingly volatile maritime threats facing Africa’s territorial waters.

Actual and attempted piracy attacks in the West African coast increased from 34 per cent to 79 in 2020, up from 59 in 2019; while total of 147 vessels were attacked in 2020 and 149 crew were kidnapped with 27 kidnapped for ransom.

Expressing concerns over the spate of attacks on vessels on West African waterways and the timeliness of the coming conference, the newly-appointed Rear Admiral Issah Adam Yakubu, Chief of Naval Staff, Ghana Navy, said, “It is troubling to know that 95 per cent of all kidnappings at sea in 2020 occurred in the Gulf of Guinea. Regrettably, the actual and attempted attacks in the region also increased by 34 per cent from the 2019 figure of 59 – 79 in the year 2020 despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on all of us.”

According to the Rear Admiral, these statistics call for urgent and concerted efforts to deal with the menace, stressing, “that is why I Rear Admiral Issah Adam Yakub, Chief of the Naval Staff of Ghana is inviting my colleague chiefs of Navy and coastguards, other law enforcement agencies, experts, industry and all other stakeholders in the maritime domain to meet in Accra.”

“I am hopeful that by the end of this conference we can collectively find innovative ways to curb the rise of criminal activities in the Gulf of Guinea for the benefit of our nations and the people who trade and derive their livelihoods from the sea. Great Minds Event Management and my team here in Ghana will ensure strict adherence to all COVID protocols to ensure the safety of all,” he concluded.

Commenting on their participation in this edition, Ghana’s Chief of the Air Staff, AVM Frank Hanson, said, “For several years the maritime space remains one of the most vital components of our national security and with a coastline of 550 kilometres and an exclusive economic zone of 200 miles, Ghana’s maritime space accounts for more than 80 per cent of Ghana’s GDP and that impacts positively on our neighbours in the region.

“The proximity of the Gulf of Guinea to Europe and North America for the transportation of low oil further raises its importance in the global supply of energy.

“As you’re aware, more than 5.4 million barrels of crude oil are produced from the Gulf of Guinea each year. In recent years, it has also become very clear that the force behind maritime security is air power, certainly it is air power that is very smart, flexible and responsible to provide reach for surface forces to dominate the maritime domain,” Hanson enlightened.

He said, “It is therefore not surprising that the key highlights of IMDEC 2021 will feature, for the first time, the role of air power in maritime operations. The strategic objectives of the Ghana Air Force are to redefine the national maritime capability as an economic multiplier to national and sub-regional development. This capability is to connect the maritime domain to strategic economic centers of our sub region. I therefore wish to encourage our neighbours to take advantage of IMDEC 2021.

“The Ghana Air Force works very closely with the Ghana Navy and other international partners to develop an integrated maritime and air operations to cover our territorial waters,” he said.

Threatened by this growing insecurity at sea, are tens of billions of dollars in Investments on the West African maritime sector.

By 2020, the African port sector had collectively attracted $50 billion in public and private investments.

This has heralded an emergence of world-class ports in Africa spread out in Morocco, South Africa and Egypt. Tangier Med Port was ranked at position 35 in this year’s Lloyd’s List report on the world’s busiest seaports, rubbing shoulders with renowned ports from developed nations such as the UK and USA.

These investments offer massive business opportunities for contractors, suppliers and technology providers who could get a slice of the defence and maritime spending by participating at the IMDEC.

In this second edition, the regional naval chiefs will be discussing on the theme: maritime security and trade: the nexus between a secure maritime domain in a developed blue economy.

Some of the companies that have confirmed participation at the event include Paramount, Israel Shipyards Ltd, Israel Aerospace Industries, MBDA and Airbus.

They will all be showcasing their latest technologies and services throughout the two-day exhibition.

Similarly, among the Chiefs of Naval Staff and VIPs who confirmed their attendance as guests and speakers at IMDEC include Rear Admiral Nguessan Kouame, Chief of Naval Staff, Cote d’Ivoire Navy; Vice Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo, Chief of Naval Staff, Nigeria Navy; Rear Admiral Oumar Wade, Chief of Naval Staff, Senegalese Navy; Rear Admiral Jean Mendoua, Chief of Naval Staff, Cameroon Navy; Rear Admiral Carlos Alfredo Mandungal, Chief of Naval Staff, Guinea Bissau Navy; Rear Admiral Jeffrey S. Spivey, Vice Commander, U.S. Sixth Fleet, Royal Navy; Rear Admiral Ben Reynolds, Director of Maritime Headquarters U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa / U.S. 6th Fleet; Captain Pedro Santana, Commander of the Coast Guard, Cape Verde; Captain Philip Juana, Commander, Sierra Leone Navy and Dr. Dieng Abdourahmane (Rtd.Col.), Head Regional Security Division, ECOWAS Commission.

Increased security breach onshore have forced governments of African countries to focus on upgrading the ports and maritime infrastructure and security to combat incidents and strengthen the security of commodities – food, energy and other products that are crucial for the rest of the world.

Port development received extensive consideration from governments, with most of the 38 African nations with coastlines having a port development project in the pipeline or ongoing.

Despite the pandemic, most of these projects were still in operation, although logistical support was hindered by the lockdowns in 2020.

The largest maritime security exhibition and conference in West Africa, the three-day IMDEC conference and exhibition will feature exclusive tours of Ghana’s Air and Naval bases and will consist of in-depth walk-throughs of the naval dockyard and air base as well as private vessel tours to further display the advanced capabilities of Ghana’s Naval and Air Force fleet.

It will be recalled that Nigerian Navy Increases security presence in the Gulf of Guinea with the inauguration of Obangame 2021.

This involved the deployment of deployed six ships, two tugboats, two helicopters and a Nigerian Air Force ATR42 aircraft by the Nigerian Navy; toward addressing maritime challenges in the Gulf of Guinea.

The Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo, announced the increase of security assets in the region during the inauguration of the 11th Exercise Obangame Express 2021.

Gambo explained that the exercise was an annual multinational maritime exercise borne out of the need for the Gulf of Guinea Navies to work together for regional maritime safety and security.

The inaugurated exercise was held onboard the Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS), THUNDER, at the Naval Dockyard Ltd., in Victoria Island, Lagos.

Flagging off the exercise onboard NNS Thunder, recently, at the Naval Dockyard Limited Victoria Island, Lagos, the Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo, explained that the exercise was aimed at contributing to the freedom of navigation in the Gulf of Guinea , by strengthening coordination in the fight against insecurity for socioeconomic activities among member states to thrive.

He informed that it would also enhance the collective capabilities of Gulf of Guinea and West African nations to counter sea-based illicit activities. According to him, the exercise was introduced to foster togetherness of regional navies as a result of the huge resources and vast potential being continuously undermined by multifaceted domestic and cross border threats.

“This challenges the dwindling prosperity of member states,” he said.

The CNS said that the exercise would present an ample opportunity for the Nigerian Navy to work together with other national and regional navies in the spirit of the Yaoundé Code of Conduct.

“This code is designed to improve operational readiness, maritime domain awareness, information-sharing practices and tactical interdiction expertise.

The US Consul General, Claire Pierangelo, described maritime security, especially in the Gulf of Guinea, as a common interest to all nations, adding that no fewer than 16 countries shared the same waters.

She stated that the annual sea exercise attested to the strong partnership between US and Nigeria, pointing out that “executing it despite the COVID-19 restrictions was a true testament to the richness and quality of both countries’ relationship.”

Gambo said the sustenance of this exercise was critical to Nigeria’s national interest, given the huge contributions of the nation’s strategic maritime resources to national prosperity and development.

“This is in line with the Nigerian Navy mandate and other treaties which Nigeria is a signatory too,” he said.

The CNS appreciated the government of the United States through the U.S. African Command and other international partners for facilitating and sustaining Exercise Obangame Express over the years.

It is in the spirit of these efforts that Nigeria’s participation at the coming IMDEC is crucial to the success of the programme designed to enhance Navy-Air joint security strategies for a safer West African seaway.
Source: This Day

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