By Steve Agbota, [email protected]
Recently, several countries gathered in Abuja for the 5th Plenary Session of Gulf of Guinea (GOG) Maritime Collaboration Forum (MCF) Shared Awareness and Deconfliction (SHADE) initiative to explore efficient collaborative framework towards improving maritime security in the GoG.
The GoG SHADE offers a veritable platform for GoG nations and other partner nations to congregate and cooperate to address piracy challenges facing the region.
The GOG has a coastline of about 2,874 nm endowed with hydrocarbon and mineral deposits and a comparative advantage owing to the absence of narrow maritime shipping lanes, straits or chokepoints linking major global shipping destinations.
Sadly, this comparative advantage has been threatened by the activities of criminal elements perpetrating piracy and armed robbery at sea, which have continued to undermine the economic life of nations within the region in particular and global trade in general.
Due to this menace, international shipping nations are always avoiding GoG for fear of being attacked. Consequently, they opted for nations with safer waters to do shipping trade.
However, no one can easily forget the frequent reports of attacks on ships and kidnapping of seafarers in the Gulf of Guinea between 2019 and 2020 when it was rampant and their attendant negative economic effects on seaborne trade in the region.
It was against this background that shipping nations around GoG have put efforts together to ensure that maritime crimes especially piracy and sea robbery in the region are surmounted.
The efforts are now yielding results as issues of piracy and other maritime crimes have declined in the region.
For instance, the Nigerian Government through, Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), has in the last few years invested in maritime infrastructures to fight maritime crimes in its waters up to the GoG.
Today, Nigeria is almost celebrating two quarters of zero attacks in 2022, even the IMB has not only affirmed that piracy is at a 28-year low in the region, a development that has taken Nigeria which once was off its Red List.
Already, stakeholders have called for collective framework to sustain the feat to keep Nigeria waters and other nations in the GoG safe for shipping trade.
NIMASA boss, Dr. Bashir Jamoh, said that more remains to be done in terms of the legal framework to enable the SHADE’s endorsement by more countries for better and seamless transfer agreements and harmonisation of laws and sharing of information.
He pledged to provide logistics and policy formulation that would sustain piracy decline in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG).
Jamoh noted that in ensuring its sustainability, collaboration was of essence among member countries so that each country’s boundaries and limitations would be considered to prevent any form of conflict.
According to him, today’s regional forum will be a place to share mutual maritime concerns, jointly face the threat and together create the mitigations.
He assured Nigeria, through NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy, that they stand ready as co-chair of the SHADE to continue to provide necessary support in collaboration with the Interregional Coordination Centre (ICC).
“The SHADE must be nurtured to remain a force for good. As members we owe a collective duty to this forum to keep its dialogue robust and guard it from slipping into complacency as to become a toothless bulldog. Our SHADE must be strengthened through cooperation, coordination, collaboration and communication. Security success can never be solitary achievements,’’ he said.
For his part, the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo, said that GoG SHADE would offer a veritable platform for GoG nations and other partner nations to congregate and cooperate to address the piracy challenge facing the region.
Gambo represented by Rear Admiral Garba Saidu, Chief of Policy and Plans, said challenges member countries are experiencing should not deter their collaborative efforts towards reinforcing their existing initiatives to advance and coordinate maritime security activities.
“Much has been achieved but there is still room for greater collaboration in the areas of information sharing, increased presence of naval assets and strengthened legal frameworks among the GoG nations as well as international partners.
“The safety and security of shipping in the GoG is a vital enabler in the recovery process of global economy and trade suffered due to COVID-19 pandemic. It is therefore imperative for us to succeed in this drive,’’ he said.
On the part of the Nigerian Navy fighting piracy, he said the successes recorded were largely due to its ongoing efforts towards building institutional capacity in reinforcing capabilities for maritime governance.
“This has been deeply supported by the Government of Nigeria, through the Office of the National Security Adviser, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Transportation and Defence Headquarters amongst others.
“Nonetheless, there is still room for greater collaboration in the areas of information sharing, increased presence of naval assets and strengthened legal frameworks among the GoG nations as well as international partners.
“I am optimistic that the respective discussions and suggestions on tackling emerging maritime security challenges, would provide platforms for sharing our thoughts and experiences towards improved maritime governance in the region,” he said.
Similarly, Co-Chair of the Forum, Rear Adm. Solomon Agada, said that the vision of GoG SHADE was to have a Gulf of Guinea maritime environment free from incidents of piracy and armed robbery.
“While the mission is to strengthen national, regional and international naval cooperation to combat piracy and armed robbery in the GoG.
“Today’s sessions have been crafted to provide us with the substance for the discussions on our way ahead as we look to build upon the progress that has been achieved. This is because collaboration and cooperation require the application of commitment that will take time to truly deliver. We must remain steadfast in that commitment.
“As Co-Chair of this forum, I am acutely aware piracy is but one of many maritime security threats in this region, and I am also aware, in my capacity as the Nigerian Navy’s Chief of Naval Operations, how all navies are continually having to adapt to many demands placed upon their time,” he said.
He, however, said that within the framework of the Forum, the stakeholders had committed as a region and as an international community to cooperate to operationally respond to the piracy threat which causes direct harm to both the people and economies.
“We will continue to count on your support as we move forward on the all-important mission to strengthen national, regional and international naval cooperation to combat piracy and armed robbery at sea in the Gulf of Guinea,” he added.