The Commission of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is intensifying efforts at combating piracy and other maritime criminality with the support of development partners, particularly the European Union (EU), United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and the governments of Germany, Denmark and the USA.
Underscoring the benefits and crucial importance of the collaborative partnerships, Col. Abdourahmane Dieng, Head of Regional Security Division, Department of Political Affairs, Peace and Security, ECOWAS Commission, explained that ECOWAS had initiated efforts on Maritime Security as far back as 2008, in tandem with similar measures by the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).
Speaking in an interview in his Abuja office, on 13th June 2019, he recalled that this was before sea attacks rose by 10 per cent in the Gulf of Guinea between 2010 and 2011, a development linked to oil exploration and exploitation and with the extension of the unrest in Nigeria’s Niger Delta from land to the sea.
Globally, the economic cost of piracy alone is estimated at between 15 and 25 billion US dollars, with the Ocean Beyond Piracy (OBP), putting the cost in West Africa at 818 million dollars in 2017. By 2018, the Piracy Reporting Centre of the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) warned that the maritime industry experienced a net increase in attacks, year-over-year with “a marked rise in attacks against ships and crews around West Africa.”
In June 2013, leaders of ECOWAS, ECCAS and the Gulf of Guinea Commission at their summit in Yaoundé, Cameroon, agreed to collectively address security issues in their maritime domain. This resulted in three strategic instruments – a Political Declaration, Memorandum of Understanding and the Code of Conduct for the repression of acts of piracy and other illicit activities committed at sea in the Gulf of Guinea.
Col Dieng explained that consequently, ECOWAS in 2014 adopted an Integrated Maritime Strategy (EIMS), with five pillars – maritime governance, maritime safety and security, maritime environment, maritime economy and maritime domain awareness and research.
While expressing ECOWAS’ gratitude to development partners for their support, he said “much work is still required for sustainable maritime security and full realisation of the benefits of the region’s blue economy.”
The EU is supporting ECOWAS member States and Mauritania with funding estimated at 155 million pounds for the Improved Regional Fisheries Governance in Western Africa (PESCAO) and Support to West Africa Integrated Maritime Security (SWAIMS). These programmes, which also cover illegal human and drug trafficking, are in addition to the multi-million-Euro EU Support to ECOWAS Regional Peace, Security and Stability Mandate (EU-ECOWAS PSS) Project.
Col. Dieng called for the enhancement of maritime domain awareness, acquisition of more sea vision equipment and radar assistance to boost satellite surveillance, training and joint operations at sea, and the tackling of maritime blindness.
“There is the need for enhanced stakeholder cooperation for effective governance of the maritime domain,” said Col Dieng, who also highlighted the issue of capacity deficiency at the regional security division, which is also in charge of Counter Terrorism, Security Sector Reform and Governance, coordination of security and intelligence services, and at the same time providing technical support to other ECOWAS departments dealing with transnational organized crimes.