By Oluwafemi Kumuyi
THE Nigerian maritime sector is getting set for a total transformation in its security architecture, as the country prepares to host the world at the Global Maritime Security Conference, GMSC, this month in Abuja. The conference will focus on solutions to the menace of insecurity, especially as it affects the maritime domains of West and Central Africa region and the Gulf of Guinea.
Over the years, there have been several reports by the International Maritime Bureau, IMB, pointing to the fact that the security situation in the Gulf of Guinea deserves prompt action. The countries affected have seen the need to tackle the problem head-on, with Nigeria taking the lead.
Although, some of the reports by the IMB were exaggerated or misplaced, as sea robbery incidents were often reported as piracy, concerns remain about the threat of insecurity. While piracy refers to attacks in international waters, sea robbery happens in territorial waters and is, thus, under the littoral state’s jurisdiction.
The Heads of Government in the region are doing a lot to tackle the menace, which also poses a threat to economic growth. Several strategies have been adopted, including the Africa Integrated Maritime Strategy, AIMS 2050, the Yaoundé Code of Conduct, the Djibouti Code of Conduct, and the Lome Charter, among other strategies.
On October 15, 2016, at the 22nd Ordinary Session of Heads of State and Government, the 2050 African Integrated Maritime Strategy, AIMS, and its Plan of Action, including a roadmap for the incremental implementation of the strategy in line with international maritime law, were adopted.
The strategy includes a framework for action on, among others, fisheries and aquaculture; environmental and biodiversity monitoring; marine tourism; disaster risk management (DRM); handling and shipment of hazardous materials and dangerous goods; maritime governance; Flag State and Port State Control; and illegal activities, including money laundering, piracy, maritime terrorism and human trafficking and smuggling by sea. The strategy is geared towards actualising a safe and secure maritime domain and tackling all forms of maritime crimes in the West and Central Africa Sub-region, including the Gulf of Guinea.
Back home, prompted by the need to give a legal backing to the fight against piracy, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) sponsored an anti-piracy bill in 2016, which eventually got Presidential Assent in June 2019 and was, thus, enacted into law.
The bill gives effect to provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, UNCLOS, 1982, and the convention for the suppression of unlawful acts against the safety of maritime navigation, SUA, and its protocols. It is aimed at addressing insecurity in Nigerian waters and, more importantly, achieving the international requirement for standalone legislation on piracy, as against the approach of using the Maritime Operations Coordinating Board Amendment Bill to criminalise piracy.
The antipiracy law officially makes Nigeria the first country to have such a law in the West and Central African sub-region. The Director-General of NIMASA, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, described the antipiracy law as a bold step in the fight against maritime insecurity.
Dakuku said, “It is not just victory for NIMASA, but also the entire stakeholders and the maritime community in Nigeria. We are determined to deliver on our promises to investors and the international community by ensuring we have a safer and more secure environment where their businesses can thrive.”
The new law provides that any person who commits or attempts to commit, facilitates, aids, abets, conspires or participates in an act of piracy or any maritime offence or unlawful act under the Act shall be liable, on conviction to any penalty or punishment as provided under the Act. The punishment includes life imprisonment and fines of not more than N250, 000,000 upon conviction.
In furtherance of its determination to put an end to the security threats, the Nigerian government will from October 7 to 9 host the Global Maritime Security Conference in the country’s capital. The conference will bring together stakeholders from across the globe to discuss the following themes: Maritime Security, Legal Framework and Regulatory issues in the Gulf of Guinea; Maritime Governance and the Blue Economy; Technology Deployment in Maritime Security; Evolving Roles, Models, Missions and Capabilities; Future of Maritime Security: Trends, Emerging Threat, Vectors and Capability Requirements.
Other subjects that will be deliberated by experts and stakeholders include: Ensuring Maritime Security in the Gulf of Guinea: Effective Regional Cooperation and Role of International Partners; Enhancing Maritime Domain Awareness and Harmonised Standard Operating Procedures (HSOP): a Model for Cooperation.
Speaking ahead of the event, which is expected to attract about 70 countries, the Secretary-General of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, Mr. Mohammed Sanusi Barkindo, applauded the initiative. Barkindo noted that it will go a long way in addressing security concerns in the maritime domain of the entire Gulf of Guinea. “It is a major shipping route and any infraction there would be felt beyond the region,” he said.
Meanwhile, the NIMASA DG, who is also Chairman of the Association of African Maritime Administrations, AAMA, said the conference would provide a platform for stakeholders to brainstorm and collectively find solutions to the challenge of maritime insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea. “We shall have a no-holds-barred discussion on security in the Gulf of Guinea at the conference, which promises to be a watershed event in the history of maritime security in Africa and, indeed, the world,” Dakuku stated.
The event will attract world renowned speakers and experts. They include Phillip Heyl, who is the Chief Executive Officer of The Heyl Group, an independent management consulting firm focused on Africa. Heyl is a senior advisor to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), where guides the standup of the Interregional Coordination Center (ICC) in Yaoundé, Cameroon, a first-of-its-kind effort to coordinate a collective African response to maritime threats in the Gulf of Guinea.
The Deputy Chief of the Gabon Navy, Captain (N) Loïc N. Moudouma, is also expected at the conference. He is a member of the National Sea Council of Gabon. Moudouma is a strategy, force planning and decision making, and maritime safety and security expert.
There is also Tim Edmunds, a Professor of International Security and Director of the Global Insecurities Centre at the University of Bristol. Edmunds is founding Editor-in-Chief of the European Journal of International Security for Cambridge University Press and the British International Studies Association (BISA).
Professor of International Relations at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, Christian Bueger, will be speaking at the occasion as well.
Others are Dr. Phillip Belcher, a master mariner’s with Certificate of Competency, who has worked with the Bahamas Maritime Authority as an Assistant Director; and Mr. Oliver Stolpe, Country Representative for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Stolpe, who holds a PhD in law and criminology from Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg, also has graduate and postgraduate degrees in law from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universtät München, Germany.
As the world pays more attention to the Gulf of Guinea, it is expected that criminal elements bent on disrupting legitimate activities in that maritime domain would no longer have a hiding place. Nigeria aims to achieve with the GMSC a holistic solution to the menace of insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea, which comprises the maritime area located in the western part of the continent. The area includes countries bordering the Atlantic Ocean, such as Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Sao Tome and Principe, Angola and Congo.
In hosting the conference, Nigeria believes a safe and secure Gulf of Guinea would spur economic growth and increased prosperity in the region, as investors explore the rich maritime domain with greater confidence.