By Evelyn Usman
The European Union has expressed determination to partner with Nigeria to tackle maritime threats such as armed robbery at sea, and kidnappings of sea fearers, among others, in the Gulf of Guinea.
To this effect, the first-ever joint event on strengthening Nigeria and the European Union, EU Cooperation on maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea corridor on the West African Coast, was held yesterday, at the Western Naval Command, Apapa, Lagos, with a mandate to improve operational coordination and capacity building exercises.
The visiting European Union countries which included Italy, Spain, Greece and France are also expected to address threats such as illegal fishing, trafficking and transnational crimes in the Gulf of Guinea.
Two ships: Italian Navy Ship, ITN RIZZO and Spanish Navy Ship, ESPS SERVIOLA, who made a port call to the Naval Dockyard, Victoria Island, Lagos, as part of the cooperation, are expected to conduct a two-day capacity demonstration and joint training with the Nigerian Navy.
Speaking at the occasion, the Head of the EU delegation and EU Senior Coordinator for the Gulf of Guinea, Mr Nicolas Berlanga, explained that the idea of strengthening cooperation with Nigeria became necessary, in order to ensure coordinated monitoring of the Gulf of Guinea by the EU and its member states.
He said the collaboration would help protect the freedom of investment and improve economic development.
He said: “It is good that we coordinate internally and engage strategically with the Nigerian Navy.
“We will work together and offer our partnership to the Nigerian Navy for continued strengthening of security around the Gulf of Guinea.
“This is important and it will be of benefit because freedom of navigation and investment of economic activities is also our freedom.
” Big principle is the effort that the Nigerian Navy is making to strengthen maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea. It is also a work, which we benefit from because freedom of navigating, and freedom of investment in economic activities is also our freedom. And in practical terms, the sea exercise that occurred between EU members and Nigeria is part of the partnership and Nigerians will see that more relevantly”.
In his remarks, Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo noted that the event was coming at a time when the nation was committed to the sustainable development of her blue economy, noting that a secured maritime environment was a contributing factor to the economic prosperity of nations the world over.
The CNS who was represented by the Chief of Policy and Plans, Naval Headquarters, Rear Adm Saidu Garba, said, “the struggle against maritime insecurity is a collaborative effort that no single country or region can tackle alone. For this reason, ECOWAS in conjunction with the Economic Community of Central African States formulated the Yaoundé Code of Conduct as a foundation for broad-based regional maritime security along the entire Gulf of Guinea.
“ But the security partnership goes beyond Africa, embracing the European Union and other key international players geographically outside the Gulf of Guinea because the Gulf of Guinea is of global importance, as a crucial maritime route. Therefore, an effort to continue to secure maritime space, especially the Gulf of Guinea is crucial to the Regional Navies and international players.
“The Gulf of Guinea itself is a vast and diverse region stretching from Senegal to Angola covering approximately 2,874nm of coastline. It is an important shipping zone transporting oil and gas as well as goods to and from Africa and the rest of the world. On any one day, there are about 1500 tankers, cargo ships and fishing vessels navigating its waters”.
He, however, lamented that “piracy, armed robbery at sea, kidnapping of seafarers, illegal unreported and unregulated fishing, smuggling, trafficking and transnational organized crimes pose a major threat to maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea. Maritime insecurity has long been one of the most persistent and intractable threats to maritime communities and economic prosperity in West Africa. Importantly, concerted efforts in form of synergy should be maintained to curb these maritime crimes”
He, however, stated that the commitment of the Nigerian Navy towards maritime security had yielded dividends, as a lot, according to him, had been achieved by the Nigerian Navy in the safeguard of the Gulf of Guinea.
“ Notable among them is the arrest of 10 pirates whose jail terms were secured for hijacking a Chinese fishing vessel, FV HAI LU FENG II off Cote D’Ivoire in May 2020. The crime committed violated Section 3 of the Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Act 2019, punishable under Section 2 of the same Act. Nigeria has continued to record successes in the anti-piracy war as activities of pirates in the Gulf of Guinea have reached an all-time low in more than a decade. Following the significant success occasioned by the Nigerian Navy’s increased maritime security operations against maritime criminalities in collaboration with other agencies, the International Maritime Bureau has exited Nigeria from its Piracy List. Nigeria has collaborated with other Gulf of Guinea navies to address the maritime security situation in the Gulf of Guinea”, he stated.
In his welcome address, the Flag officer Commanding Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral Yakubu Wambai, explained that the event was aimed at deepening the ties between Nigeria and the European Union in the maritime domain.
He noted that the sea remained the most veritable means of transportation that nations, individuals and groups had exploited; he, therefore, called for the need to safeguard the pathways.
He said, “ European Union collaborative effort on maritime security is germane. Working together is Sine qua non in the zeal to defend the seas by enhanced maritime security and safety needed to promote international trade, protect the environment and guarantee use of the Sea for legitimate businesses”.