A symposium on maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea was held in Dakar, Senegal, on 19 and 20 September. The event brought together the chiefs of naval staff of 17 Gulf of Guinea countries committed to cooperative actions initiated in Yaoundé, Cameroon, in June 2013.
The Yaoundé process, which was approved last year at the African Union summit in Lomé, Togo, aims to develop work in common and improve the efficiency of African states in maritime safety and security. At the political level, the process involves the main regional organisations, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the Gulf of Guinea Commission (GGC). As a result of a common political will to secure the region in order to ensure its prosperity, the process will also implement a regional strategy for maritime safety and security with concrete actions to combat identified threats.
Strategic region, many threats
With over 6000km of coastline and 140 million tonnes of merchandise passing through the western part alone (i.e. a quarter of all African shipping), the Gulf of Guinea is of significant strategic importance. It is one of the world’s major oil producing areas and home to important fisheries. But it also faces many security threats, all of which are potential factors of destabilisation. These range from acts of maritime banditry and piracy to trafficking of all kinds of goods, including drugs and weapons; pollution risks; illegal fishing in highly productive waters; migratory flows and overcrowding of coastal mega-cities. Add to this terrorism, with radicalisation supported by Islamists operating from the Sahel strip.
Facing these challenges, the states bordering the Gulf of Guinea have decided to join forces and intensify cooperation. And the results over the last three years have been encouraging. The Interregional Coordination Centre (ICC) was set up in Yaoundé in September 2014 to implement Yaoundé process actions at the strategic level. This has involved not only collaboration between armed forces — chiefly navies and coast guards — but also collaboration with public agencies in each country.
Two regional maritime security centres — CRESMAC in Pointe-Noire, Congo, for Central Africa and CRESMAO in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, for West Africa — were set up to carry out operational actions. Each is supported by several Maritime Coordination Centres (three for CRESMAO and two for CRESMAC) and at a lower level, the national operational centres. Through these entities and their local networks, the Gulf of Guinea countries are developing maritime monitoring and tracking tools, exchanging information and carrying out joint maritime security actions. As a result, it is now much easier to locate, track and intercept suspect vessels as they can no longer slip, as they did in the past, from one country’s waters or EEZ to another’s.
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