The Gulf of Guinea (GoG) has become the global epicentre of piracy. The increased frequency, intensity and violence of attacks have led many to call for decisive action to ameliorate the threat. While armed robbery against ships and piracy are the main concerns, stakeholders recognise a variety of additional maritime crimes that threaten the stability and economy of the region. First and foremost among them is the illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing which decimates fish stocks, erodes the marine environment and puts economic hardship on coastal communities. IUU fishing also threatens the economy of the region as well as its food security and food sovereignty.
Despite these challenges, the architecture of maritime security cooperation across West and Central Africa is extensive. In some ways, the successes at the national, zonal, regional and inter-regional levels have actually pushed criminals to adapt their business model by moving the attacks far from the coastline (into international waters), and taking crew members hostage for ransom. However, the current threat picture in the region requires a major change in order to settle the concerns of international community, including the maritime industry.
"You can’t blame your house for letting the rain in, until you put a roof on it“
You cannot claim that the maritime security architecture of the region – known as the Yaoundé Architecture for Maritime Safety and Security (YAMS) – is not working until it is fully established and implemented. With this in mind, the international community is strongly encouraged to work with, and through, the YAMS to help strengthen the cooperative efforts that the states of the region have initiated.
A critical area of support in this respect is in education, training and exercises. The still nascent navies, coast guards and law enforcement agencies of West and Central Africa, have a variety of needs and interests in this respect, most notably legal education, law enforcement training, and operational exercises. Additionally, maritime security stakeholders from the International Community, including NATO entities, should examine how to optimize the assistance needed to the region.
Importantly, there is a desire for any education, training or exercises to become sustainable. The region does not want to constantly have to restart the process after each training opportunity, but wants to consolidate a corporate memory. Part of that sustainability means finding and championing both regional experts, through train-the-trainer programs, and regional institutions, that can become the repository of information for, and host the educational, training or exercise initiatives.
There also has to be an understanding that maritime insecurity originates on land, and subsequently returns to it. Therefore, to effectively address maritime crime, be it armed robbery against ships or piracy, IUU fishing or any other form, efforts to counter and fight maritime crime must be comprehensive and coordinated to address the root causes on land.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, any stakeholders supporting the region and any other potential actors like NATO, should recognise the importance of relationships. The GoG region is a crowded space of international partners, in which any new partner willing to support on-going efforts need to cultivate and build genuine trust-based relationships with key institutions and professionals in the region.