Maritime & Coastal Security Africa: West Africa’s coast new battle front against piracy

Cape Town gathering of institutional and technical solutions again sea crimes

East African piracy, while not conquered, is coming under control while West Africa, where sea crimes deal mainly with oil, is the new battle front.  The more 600 maritime and naval experts that met in Cape Town this week for the annual Maritime & Coastal Security Africa conference and exhibition, also heard that greater collaboration amongst agencies within countries and between countries is needed to combat piracy.

Prof Renfrew Christie, conference chairman and Dean of Research at the University of the Western Cape, says: “we’ve moved on significantly since last year’s Maritime & Coastal Security Africa in terms of international collaboration and technology, especially in the improvement of sensors.  Deep coalitions are needed, amongst a whole set of agencies inside and outside countries to combat what is a very flexible and fast-moving enemy in organised crime.”

At what is the largest maritime defence and security event on the continent, the conference and expo focused on the price of piracy as well as institutional and technical solutions to combat serious sea crimes.  High-level speakers included naval leaders from countries like South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Mozambique, Angola and the Netherlands.

No respect for national boundaries
Says Prof Christie:  “there is an African Union 2050 Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy, which is like a battle plan and involves regional and sub-regional agreements and it was clear from the Maritime & Coastal Security Africa conference that we are only at the start of coming to these agreements.  We have to get all the forces together because oil, pirates and fish do not respect national boundaries, whether by sea or by land.”

He continues:  “the conference also demonstrated how piracy, illegal fishing, pollution and toxic waste dumping are all tangled and intertwined, also with drug smuggling, kidnapping, human trafficking and money laundering, but there has been massive progress on all these fronts since last year.  For example, the capture of big ships by Somali pirates has stopped and the capture of small boats is very rare.  But there are still 50-60 hostages that are held by Somali pirates so the problem is not completely solved.  This progress can be attributed to bigger and better international working together, much more robust terms of engagement, meaning a willingness to use force and use the rule of law to combat the problem.”

95% of world trade goes by sea
Also on land, the governance of Somalia has improved says Prof Christie.  He expands:  “in the end piracy is a symptom of weak power on land.  There is better understanding of the old fact that security at sea is vital for the economic development of the whole world, including land-locked countries because 95% of world trade goes by sea.  The maritime industries, both the ones that make ships, boats and aerial vehicles, as well as sensors of all types, have kept ahead with amazing technologies at practical prices.  Just as cell phones today are much better than those of 15 years ago, so the 21st century machinery for dealing with crime at sea has got much better.”

Building African solutions
James Fisher, CEO of Paramount Naval Systems, agrees that the situation in West Africa has deteriorated:  “as stronger counter-piracy measures have developed in East Africa, criminal organisations have come to see coastal assets in West Africa as soft targets.  The result is that the waters of the Gulf of Guinea are now the most dangerous in Africa for merchant shipping.  Unless it is tackled quickly and effectively, piracy could do serious damage to West Africa’s oil and gas industry, slowing development for years to come.”

He continues:  “the solution is not to seek international help to solve these African problems, but to build African solutions to them. The development of a strong African shipbuilding industry means it is possible for African nations to find African solutions to the threat of piracy.”  In response to growing demand from sovereign governments across Africa and the developing world, Paramount Naval Systems is developing a fleet of multi-role patrol vessels.

South Africa’s 10th province
According to Prof Renfrew Christie the conference was “an interface between policy makers, ships captains, computer nerds and international lawyers to arrive at the cutting edge solutions to a clear and present danger which needs rigorous treatment if the world economy is to grow and protect ordinary people at sea and on the coast.  It was said that South Africa’s 10th province is the sea and this is true even for landlocked countries.  The whole world has a vital interest in safety at sea and in free trade.”


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