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Tackling insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea with GOG-MCF/SHADE

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[FILES] Gulf of Guinea (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

The effort to keep the maritime environment in the Gulf of Guinea where Nigeria is a major player safe and secure requires relentlessness on the part of all stakeholders, especially, the countries that make up the region. Eneke, the bird in Chinua Achebe’s classic, Things Fall Apart, said since men have learnt to shoot without missing, he, too, has learnt to fly without perching.

Pirates and other maritime criminals are daily devising new tactics to keep their nefarious activities going. Stakeholders in the maritime sector must also engage in constant innovation in order to keep the maritime ecosystem safe and secure.

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The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) has, in the last year, adopted a multi-pronged approach to fighting insecurity in the country’s waterways, including its exclusive economic zone. The agency has gone beyond the methods that have been used over the years, which do not seem to have achieved the desired objectives, to design a first-of-its-kind security system known as the Deep Blue Project that would help tackle maritime insecurity in the country.

But while the project awaits official flag-off on the 10th of June 2021, NIMASA has explored the possibility of forming alliances with countries in the Gulf of Guinea for the adoption of common strategies and actions to keep the entire region secure. This stems from the understanding that the region cannot be secure if one country is not secure, especially against the background of incessant attacks and kidnappings on merchant vessels in the region. This is particularly reflected in the modus operandi of committing sea crimes in one nation’s waters and escaping to another coastal state with the proceeds of maritime criminality.

In the aftermath of my address to the G7++ Friends of the Gulf of Guinea Plenary Meeting in December 2020 where I stated, categorically, Nigeria’s readiness to provide leadership in the quest to solve the region’s piracy problem through the Deep Blue project, state actors and other stakeholders within the region became galvanized and the resultant engagement led to announcements that were made on a new framework for tackling insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea known as the Gulf of Guinea Maritime Collaboration Forum (GOG-MCF/SHADE). The Executive Director of the Inter-Regional Coordination Centre (ICC), Yaounde, Admiral Narciso Fastudo, the Cameroonian representative and the Nigerian Navy and NIMASA both representing Nigeria, have since the declaration held several meetings.

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The meetings are for the purpose of exploring ways of adopting a truly integrated approach to the operational challenges that may arise in the course of tackling the problem of piracy and armed robbery in the region. In the course of the meetings, there has been recognition of the potential effectiveness of a synergy involving the ICC and the Deep Blue Project, taking cognizance of the efforts of international partners such as the NIMASA Joint Industry Working Group (NJIWG) who are desirous of establishing meaningful engagements that would achieve more cooperative actions at sea.

It has been proven that collaboration involving maritime stakeholders often achieves the desired objective of improving maritime security, with stakeholders offering assistance in their areas of specialty and competence. For instance, while some stakeholders provide real-time information on activities that occur at sea, others possess the operational capacity and means to tackle problems that may arise. This has increased the need for everyone with interest in security in the Gulf of Guinea to jointly agree and implement appropriate actions that would reduce the dangers that seafarers face. This is especially so considering the fact that countries outside the Gulf of Guinea have expressed interest in making contributions in this direction. A sustainable mechanism is therefore required to achieve this objective.

In the spirit of mutual cooperation, and also building on international best practices, the ICC Yaounde and Nigeria have agreed to use the GOG-MCF/SHADE to engage in awareness and activities that would help reduce criminality in the Gulf of Guinea. The initiative is open to all the countries in the region that show the willingness and have the capacity to be part of the collaboration, on a voluntary basis.

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The main focus of GOG-MCF/SHADE will be counter-piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea. This would be done by bringing together regional, international, industry and non-governmental organizations that are partners for the purpose of advancing and coordinating near term maritime activities. This is with a view to working towards adopting a set of common operational objectives that would allow for adequate protection of seafarers and ships that operate off the coast of Western and Central Africa.

A major announcement that is a product of the several meetings between the Executive Director of the ICC Yaounde and Nigerian Navy/NIMASA (Nigeria) is the intention to hold the first GOG-MCF/SHADE online meeting as soon as practicable and not later than July 2021. In recognition of its separate but complementary nature, the G7++FOGG will support the creation of the GOG-MCF/SHADE, which would comprise an open plenary session; working group meetings; working group chairs/coordination meeting and a plenary session report. Full details of registration and agenda of the meeting will be published shortly.

The support of all maritime stakeholders for this epoch-making effort to tackle insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea has been quite encouraging. The ICC Yaounde and Nigeria are highly appreciative of this support and encourage all to be fully involved in the effort to make the region crime-free, for the purpose of guaranteeing free movement of ships and security of seafarers and their merchandise. There is also the need to change the negative perception of the region as the most insecure in the world by the international maritime community.

Dr. Jamoh is the Director-General and Chief executive Officer of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency

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