Category Archives: Africa

Analysis relating to USAFRICOM AOR.

Learning From Success: Advancing Maritime Security Cooperation in Atlantic Africa

By Dr. Ian Ralby

The M/T MAXIMUS and the M/T ANUKET AMBER are vessels that have tested the cooperative architecture for maritime security in West and Central Africa. The MAXIMUS is considered a great success story, and the ANUKET AMBER was at least a partial success. Though each involved a different type of maritime crime, a common element between them is that they helped highlight key areas where further effort is needed to achieve the goal of collective and comprehensive maritime security in Atlantic Africa. It is vitally important to celebrate the successes that have occurred in recent years, and there are quite a few. But even in reviewing success stories there is room for teasing out lessons in how to improve. When viewed as a pair of cases, these two distinct matters help point toward how West and Central Africa can proceed to enhance maritime security in the years to come.

The Case of the M/T MAXIMUS

Relative to other piracy cases in the Gulf of Guinea, a lot has been written about the hijacking and successful recovery of the MAXIMUS. One reason for the attention is that, perhaps more than any other incident, this one demonstrated the value of the cooperative architecture set forth in the 2013 Code of Conduct Concerning the Repression of Piracy, Armed Robbery Against Ships, and Illicit Maritime Activity in West and Central Africa (Yaoundé Code of Conduct). In February 2016, the MAXIMUS was overrun by pirates about 60 nautical miles off the coast of Côte d’Ivoire. The maritime law enforcement agencies of Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria and São Tomé and Príncipe all cooperated in tracking the vessel across their respective Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). Ultimately, the Nigerian Navy performed an opposed boarding, killed one pirate, captured the remainder and freed both the hostages and the vessel. At the time, the incident was heralded as the “coming of age” of navies in the region.

While nothing can detract from the success of the MAXIMUS case, there are some key issues that the incident revealed, several of which remain unaddressed. Perhaps the most prominent is the ongoing challenge of closing the seams between regions. The ultimate interdiction of the MAXIMUS occurred on the fault line between the Economic Community of Western African States (ECOWAS) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), and thus on the line between the West African Maritime Security Center (CRESMAO, though not manned until 1 September of that year) and the Central African Maritime Security Center (CRESMAC), as well as between Maritime Zones E and D.

Complicating matters further, the Joint Development Zone between Nigeria and São Tomé, created by treaty in 2003, creates an overlap between those regions and zones. Theoretically, the cooperative mandate of the Yaoundé Code should resolve any tensions arising out of incidents that cross zones and regions, but the practical realities imply challenging issues of command and control. If crossing from Zone E to Zone D, should the chain be from the Nigerian maritime operations center (MOC) to the Zone E Maritime Multinational coordination center (MMCC), to CRESMAO to the Interregional Coordination Center (CIC), to CRESMAC, to the Zone D MMCC, to Cameroon or São Tomé’s MOC? 

Zones within the Yaoundé architecture and the associated command and control relationships (Julie Tucker of I.R. Consilium, printed with permission) [Click to expand]
This is a highly inefficient and ineffective approach, requiring steps be taken to ensure that the Yaoundé architecture is not breaking down some barriers to cooperation only to create new ones. While matters of trust between neighboring states can mitigate in favor of a more regionally or zonally oriented system of command and control, such a structure must be considered carefully in order to prevent it from becoming a burdensome mechanism that actually hinders the ability to respond in real-time to undesirable events on the ocean.

Additionally, the story of the MAXIMUS is often told as an operational success, despite, in many regards, being a legal failure. When the Nigerian Navy hailed the MAXIMUS, renamed by the pirates the M/T ELVIS 5, the pirates actually challenged the Nigerian officers, claiming they were in international waters and that the Nigerians had no legal authority to act. That baseless legal argument nevertheless slowed the Nigerians’ advance, as it caused them to take several hours to question their legal authority. Furthermore, since the case concluded, debates have continued as to why Nigerian vessels could interdict a pirated vessel in another country’s EEZ.

The legal confidence to recognize that piracy, as a matter of international law, is a crime of universal jurisdiction has been compromised by the painfully slow process of updating national legislation to even outlaw piracy. While the MAXIMUS is one of the region’s most famous piracy cases, it is not a piracy case in the court. Rather, the responsible individuals have been tried for such crimes as conspiracy, firearms violations, and mishandling of petroleum resources. While the long-awaited piracy bill in Nigeria – to outlaw the crime under national law – was finally signed by President Buhari in July 2019, it has yet to be implemented. Work has proceeded since February 2016 to build both Nigeria’s and the wider region’s legal capacity, but more work is needed.

These lessons regarding closing the seams between cooperative mechanisms and enhancing the legal wherewithal of maritime law enforcement agencies were more recently reinforced by the case of the M/T ANUKET AMBER.

The Case of the M/T ANUKET AMBER

There are actually two separate incidents involving the ANUKET AMBER  tanker that occurred in the autumn of 2018 – the first has been publicized, but the second has not. On 29 October, while engaged in a ship-to-ship (STS) bunkering operation with an LNG tanker off the Republic of Congo, both the ANUKET AMBER and the ARC TZE, the vessel to which she was coupled, were pirated. In one of the only incidents of double piracy the region has seen, it took several months for the hostages to be released. In the meantime, the ANUKET AMBER itself was abandoned and recovered in Togo’s waters at the beginning of November.

The second incident, however, is the one that bears greater attention. On 17 December the Maritime Multinational Coordination Center (MMCC) for ECOWAS Zone F alerted the states of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire that the ANUKET AMBER was engaging in systematic STS transfers in the previously disputed area of the EEZ between the two countries. On 18 December, one of the vessels with which it had rendezvoused, the MSC MARIA, actually entered the port of San Pedro in Côte d’Ivoire, where Ivorian authorities detained it. At the same time, Ghanaian and Ivorian naval operators agreed that they needed to arrest the ANUKET AMBER. While operational cooperation existed in so far as there was a good relationship between the two navies, the potential political backlash of crossing the, until recently, disputed maritime boundary rendered them hesitant.

Through activating a network of relationships with international partners and the United States government, coordinated in part by CRESMAO, both countries were able to get the political top cover needed to go and arrest the vessel. On 21 December, both navies sent vessels in pursuit of the ANUKET AMBER. Ghana’s vessel arrived first and brought her back to Tema. If the matter had ended there, this would have been a great success story in regard to the relationships of trust that have been built in the region in recent years. While Ghana later claimed that they fined the ANUKET AMBER for failure to notify them as the coastal state, they did not find the legal means to hold the vessel, and let her go on 23 December without notifying the Ivorians. That, in turn, destroyed the Ivorians’ case against the MSC MARIA, which was then let go as well.

While there are many things to celebrate about this incident – from the interaction and coordination among CRESMAO, the Zone F MMCC, and both countries involved to the immediate ability of both navies to talk with each other and reach out to international partners – this matter ultimately brought out three key issues. First was the lack of an operational memorandum of understanding (MOU) within Zone F to allow for the seamless invocation of hot pursuit, not so much as a legal matter, but as one with political implications for the two countries involved. In other words, there needed to be a standing order for them to be able to exercise the legal right of hot pursuit without fear of political backlash. Second was the lack of legal expertise to be able to at least investigate potential charges for the vessels involved. The final issue was the lack of communication between the states after the operation. While they had coordinated getting the vessels, there was no interaction when the decision was made to release the ANUKET AMBER. This suggests a need for stronger cooperative mechanisms between states during the legal finish phase of an operation.

Learning from Success

In both of these cases, the greatest success may not have been what happened on the water, but what happened in response to the shortcomings identified. On the one hand, the capacity and capability of a number of navies have improved since February 2016, suggesting the MAXIMUS case might have been resolved faster if it had happened now. Additionally, increased focus on legal understanding has improved the resilience of the navies, and new laws, like Nigeria’s long-anticipated piracy bill, serve as key tools in the fight against maritime crime. Furthermore, some of the inter-regional operational concerns that threatened the success of the MAXIMUS interdiction have been resolved. More work is likely needed to ensure smooth command and control and seamless cooperation, but there has been significant improvement in recent years.

The deficiencies recognized in the ANUKET AMBER case, however, were addressed even more swiftly and aggressively. Even during the incident, notes were being taken as to what needed to be improved. In early 2019, Côte d’Ivoire held a national debriefing on the matter and, recognizing the need for stronger laws, began work on improving its legislation regarding STS transfers.

Thereafter a multilateral debriefing involving all the parties – Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, MMCC Zone F and CRESMAO – on 25 February 2019 identified the key takeaways from the experience. First and foremost was developing an operational MOU for MMCC Zone F to avoid encountering some of the same operational challenges as the states had in December. The speed with which this was addressed – exactly five months after that meeting – is a tremendous credit to the drive of the states involved as well as to the leadership of both the MMCC Zone F and CRESMAO. The MOU was largely drafted in March 2019 and subsequently signed on 25 July.

Lessons on the Horizon

In the spirit of continual improvement, it is worth noting that these structures of security cooperation under the Yaoundé Architecture are going to be challenged time and time again. Notwithstanding the spike in piracy in and around Nigeria, there are plenty of other transnational maritime threats that will likely help to both validate and further refine the architecture. For example, fishing vessels registered in one state that are fishing in the EEZ of a nearby state and then dragging nets on the way home across a third state, or complex networks of offshore transshipments, are the sorts of scenarios that are not yet fully capturing the attention of maritime law enforcement agencies but will likely become a key test of the cooperative mechanisms in the months and years to come. That said, the prompt response of the region to incorporate lessons learned provides cause for optimism that the Yaoundé Architecture will be able to adapt to threats as it matures. While learning from failure is often a necessity, these cases involved learning from what were otherwise important successes, and that is truly something to celebrate.

Dr. Ian Ralby is a recognized expert in maritime law and security and serves as CEO of I.R. Consilium, a family business with leading expertise in maritime and resource security. He is also a Maritime Crime Expert for UNODC’s Global Maritime Crime Program and a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council. He previously spent four years as Adjunct Professor of Maritime Law and Security at the United States Department of Defense’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies.  

Featured Image: Arrested pirates who hijacked the MT Maximus last month. (Sunday Alamba/AP)

The Gulf of Guinea is Ready for Maritime Technology

By Dr. Ian Ralby, Dr. David Soud, and Rohini Ralby

Few regions of the world have seen more improvement in maritime security institutions over the last five years than the Gulf of Guinea. At the same time, however, maritime security threats across West and Central Africa have continued to evolve and are increasingly difficult to address. Ironically, the region is becoming a victim of its own success: improved maritime law enforcement drove criminals to become both more brazen and more innovative in how they pursue illicit profit. These heightened challenges, however, are no longer as insurmountable as even basic ones were a decade ago. Having built one of the most sophisticated and promising sets of maritime security architecture in the world, the Gulf of Guinea is actually well-placed to take on the new challenges it faces.

To maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of this architecture in confronting these threats, a new element has to enter the conversation: technology. States, zones, regions, and the wider interregional mechanisms must all explore ways of leveraging technology to realize their respective mandates in the most cost effective way. Five years ago, discussing maritime technology would have been of limited value, as the state and cooperative mechanisms across West and Central Africa were too nascent to take advantage of it. Now, however, the Gulf of Guinea is primed to make better use of maritime security technology. 

The Gulf of Guinea Has Momentum

While progress in developing functional maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea may not have been as fast as some would prefer, it is now moving rapidly, and its trajectory is unmistakable. The signing of the 2013 Code of Conduct Concerning the Repression of Piracy, Armed Robbery against Ships, and Illicit Maritime Activity in West and Central Africa – known informally as the Yaoundé Code of Conduct – catalyzed an intensive process of national, zonal, regional, and interregional improvement that continues to gain momentum. As Article 2 of the Code states, “the Signatories intend to co-operate to the fullest possible extent in the repression of transnational organized crime in the maritime domain, maritime terrorism, IUU fishing, and other illegal activities at sea.” This initiative has given rise to a multi-tiered effort.

The Gulf of Guinea (Osservatorio Strategico 2017 – Year XIX issue IV)

At the national level, states are working to establish interagency processes for maritime governance, and to develop and implement national maritime strategies. States will remain the fundamental building blocks of maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea. Only through the national laws of the regional states can maritime crimes be effectively prosecuted. Beyond these national efforts, however, the states are engaging in an increasingly integrated, multilateral architecture that facilitates seamless cooperation.

The states, including the landlocked signatories to the Yaoundé Code of Conduct, are grouped by their respective Regional Economic Communities (REC) into maritime Zones. The Economic Community for Central African States (ECCAS) has Zones A and D (there is neither a B nor a C) and the Economic Community for Western African States (ECOWAS) has Zones E, F, and G. The national groupings are as follows, with an asterisk indicating each country that hosts a Zonal Multinational Coordination Center (MCC):

  • Zone A: Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo
  • Zone D: Cameroon*, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, São Tomé and Príncipe
  • Zone E: Nigeria, Benin*, Togo, Niger
  • Zone F: Ghana*, Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea
  • Zone G: Cabo Verde*, Senegal, the Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Mali

Each REC also has a corresponding Regional Coordination Center – CRESMAC for ECCAS based in Pointe Noir, Congo, and CRESMAO for ECOWAS based in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. The two regional centers interact and share information with the MCCs to ensure operational cooperation across their respective areas of responsibility.

At the apex of the architecture is the Inter-regional Coordination Center (CIC) in Yaoundé – the intersection of the operational, strategic, and political aspects of maritime safety and security in the Gulf of Guinea. CIC both coordinates and supports the work of the two regional centers, the five zones, and the 25 member states. At the same time, it has the important role of engaging both with international partners and national governments to build political will and ensure the Gulf of Guinea’s momentum continues.

Importantly, the Yaoundé Architecture for Maritime Safety and Security (YAMSS), as the institutional framework is often called, is not merely a nice idea on paper; it is increasingly producing real results on the water. Furthermore, the community of maritime professionals involved in implementing this architectural design are increasingly connected with each other and working collectively to make maritime safety and security a reality in the Gulf of Guinea. As perhaps the most notable example, Zone D already serves as a leading example of how to conduct systematic combined operations at sea for maritime security, not just in Africa but around the world. CRESMAC and CRESMAO are becoming increasingly operational in sharing information across their regions and with each other. And CIC is beginning to garner the attention needed to be successful. At every level, there are encouraging signs of growing momentum and increased community among the maritime professionals in West and Central Africa.

Most technology for maritime law enforcement is procured at the national level. Given the extent of the integration within the Yaoundé architecture, however, there is also an opportunity for technology to be procured at the zonal, regional or inter-regional levels to ensure harmonization, to streamline access to common, inherently interoperable systems and provide a uniform operating picture. 

Technology, some procured within the Gulf of Guinea and some provided by international partners, has been a part of this process from the start. Most of it has involved enhancing visibility to improve maritime domain awareness (MDA). But with the growing coordination across states and regions, and the problem-solving and advance thinking that expansion has generated, key stakeholders have crossed a threshold: they can now discern with confidence what technologies will actually help maximize the impact of maritime operations. The lessons learned along the way merit careful attention from anyone seeking to leverage technology for improved maritime security. What follows are some of those insights.1

Avoiding Information Overload 

Improving MDA has been a major focus for years in Africa. But there is a balance to strike: being aware of everything is almost as challenging as being aware of nothing. Efficiency and effectiveness therefore begin with how information is selected and packaged for use on and off the water. Operators from across different maritime agencies share a keen interest in technology that highlights useful, actionable information, and not only collects but also filters input, helping them focus on key areas of concern rather than providing blanket visibility of all maritime activity. Given the region’s limited human as well as financial resources, such technology could guide them toward confidently engaging in targeted interdiction. This holds true for maritime criminal activity as well as fisheries protection.

But to be used consistently and effectively, the technology must be user-friendly as well. Simplicity is an important differentiator between technology that would improve general maritime domain awareness and technology that would actually help operations in law enforcement, fisheries protection, or search and rescue. For instance, artificial intelligence has now made it possible to have an MDA platform that not only shows ship positions and makes recent AIS anomalies visible, but also aggregates a wide range of real-time and historic data and filters them according to selected parameters, providing instant alerts to suspected illegal activity. That array of functions would allow for both launching decisive interdictions and detecting patterns of illicit activity.

Technology Can Facilitate Inter-Regional Harmonization 

When any one state or even zone is perceived to be weaker than its neighbors, in terms of either its laws or its capacity for law enforcement, that state or zone becomes a magnet for criminality. Consequently, a major focus of the YAMSS is on harmonization to ensure consistency in deterring and addressing maritime crime throughout the Gulf of Guinea. Depending on how it is chosen, distributed and applied, technology could either exacerbate the problem or help resolve it.

When one state has a significant technological advantage over its neighbors, the neighboring states are likely to suffer. Conversely, when shared technologies are deployed across neighboring zones and regions, new possibilities arise for communication, coordination, interoperability, and even harmonization of legal and regulatory frameworks. Some technologies, for example, could provide insight across the region as to where IUU fishing and illicit transshipment most frequently occur, or call attention to ships on erratic or otherwise suspicious courses. This could in turn inform legislative or regulatory action as well as operational decision-making at the national or zonal levels to help address maritime problems where they are most acute. Such an approach can therefore help CIC with building the political will to harmonize, as well as help the operators in their planning and execution of law enforcement activities. The more seamlessly technology is deployed across a region, the more difficult it becomes for criminals to find venues for illicit activity. As the name suggests, transnational crime is borderless; a common operating picture across the regions is therefore vital to identifying that illicit activity.

Not only have the maritime institutions evolved in recent years, the available maritime technology has developed greatly. Surveillance systems to identify illicit activity on the water – from illegal fishing to illicit transshipment to trafficking and smuggling – have improved dramatically. Employing this technology means that operators are not merely patrolling on the off chance they encounter illicit activity. The confidence of law enforcement agencies that they will not be wasting fuel and other resources is greatly enhanced by engaging in targeted interdiction of vessels reasonably certain to be committing offenses based on real-time information.

If law enforcement agencies can show that their efficiency is such that they have successful interdictions nearly every time they deploy assets, that success can become contagious. It can help energize the maritime agencies, deter criminal actors, and at the same time build the political will to ensure the longer-term safety and security of the maritime domain. Politicians are persuaded by success, and technology can greatly increase the odds of operational success.

Culprits Do Not Have to be Caught Red-Handed

In addition to facilitating targeted interdiction, advanced surveillance technologies can offer a further benefit. Just as a robber could be arrested at home for a heist caught on closed caption television (CCTV), it is now possible for vessels to be arrested in port for illicit actions committed at sea and recorded using sophisticated maritime surveillance platforms. Though CCTV is not a possibility on the water, other technologies including the use of the vessels’ Automated Information System (AIS), Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), and Electro Optical Imaging (EO) can produce high degrees of certainty regarding illicit activity. While states must ensure that their rules of evidence allow for such electronic and digital data to be used in court, this leveraging of historic surveillance data is another way the technology available today can greatly amplify the impact of limited maritime law enforcement resources. 

Technology that helps counter smuggling will inherently benefit two states simultaneously – the state that is losing the smuggled good, and the state that is losing the tax on the importation of that smuggled product. If implemented effectively, technology could disincentivize the smuggling of certain goods. One crucial example of this is fuel: the cost of doing business in illicit fuel could, with effective law enforcement, become higher than that of selling it legally, thereby making it an unattractive business proposition. A suite of technologies such as molecular marking, GPS tracking of shipments, digital documentation, and state-of-the-art metering, strategically implemented across the Gulf of Guinea, would alter the risk-reward calculus and help West and Central Africa eradicate most cross-border smuggling of fuel. These and related technologies could also appreciably mitigate other modalities of illicit trade, including counterfeit tobacco and pharmaceuticals.

Technology that Pays for Itself Sells Itself

For states and multinational bodies working to secure and govern vast maritime spaces that seldom command the political attention they deserve, investments in technology have to bring returns that justify initial and ongoing expenditure. Technologies that enable more streamlined and cost-effective operations, that combat activities that lead to substantial economic losses, or that actively generate revenue in the form of taxes, fees or various kinds of penalties are preferable to those that run at ongoing cost.

Countering IUU fishing, prosecuting environmental crimes, and combating fuel smuggling are three efforts that could hold precisely this kind of appeal. Acquiring new technology that can stem economic losses from depleted fisheries and degraded marine spaces, elicit substantial financial penalties for illegal fishing or environmental, dumping, recover revenues previously lost to fuel smuggling or prevent subsidies fraud may well find more support among decision-makers than procuring more patrol vessels that need to be crewed, fueled, and maintained. And when the technology begins to pay for itself and lead to more success on the water, investing in new patrol vessels that can amplify that success also begins to look more attractive.

If the political classes can see financial return on investment as well as improved maritime safety, security, and sustainability, wider adoption of the technology becomes more likely. Furthermore, if the procurement approach does not put all the economic burden on the purchaser, but rather balances investment and return, the Gulf of Guinea states are more likely to proceed.

Maritime Safety, Security and Resource Protection Can Share Technology 

The Gulf of Guinea Code of Conduct not only laid the groundwork for an inter-regional security architecture, it also established IUU fishing as a crime coequal with piracy, trafficking, oil theft, and other illicit activities. This move made it possible to establish far more effective legal deterrents than the administrative penalties that often accompany fisheries-related crimes. It also allows for more sharing of technology and information across agencies that combat the full range of illicit maritime activities. In light of how such criminal enterprises as IUU fishing, trafficking, and oil theft often overlap, sharing technology in this fashion can close gaps in law enforcement that criminals have all too often exploited.

Given that limited resources become even more limited when they are divided among multiple agencies trying to accomplish similar tasks, this sort of integration could have an immediate impact on maritime safety, fisheries protection and maritime security. Such sharing of resources, however, necessitates a functional interagency mechanism for maritime governance. Thus the state-level work on both whole-of-government approaches to maritime security and integrated maritime strategy development and implementation go hand-in-hand with the prospects for effective use of such technology. 

Technology Can Both Help and Complicate Legal Finish 

One of the most difficult challenges for the Gulf of Guinea, and indeed for any region, is translating operational successes into legal finish. If no prosecutorial or regulatory action is taken to penalize illicit activity, maritime law enforcement becomes a matter of catch and release. Technology can play an important role in assisting with maritime interdiction, but it also has an essential role to play in effectuating legal finish.

That said, a challenge must first be overcome. Not all legal systems have provisions for technological, digital, or electronic evidence. In order to be able to use the evidence provided by the MDA and monitoring, control, and surveillance (MCS) technologies now emerging, the state’s evidentiary rules must be amended to ensure that technology can be used in court. If those evidentiary rules are more permissive, however, there is another possibility for assisting law enforcement.

Traditionally, in the maritime space, perpetrators have to be caught in the act. But, as noted above, technology that provides evidence of illicit activity at sea could potentially be used to arrest vessels at the pier and on their return from a voyage that involved a breach of the law. In other words, limited vessels or a lack of fuel would not be a barrier to arrest and prosecution. Furthermore, regardless of where a vessel was caught, historical data could be used to increase the charges and penalties for prior offenses as indicated by the technology.

Conclusion 

The Gulf of Guinea is ready to more effectively use technology to enhance the work done to develop and operationalize the cooperative maritime security architecture in West and Central Africa. Cost-neutral or even revenue generating technology is most likely to garner the necessary political will, but from an operator’s standpoint, simplicity is also key. In addition to aiding targeted interdiction, technology can help provide the evidence for pier-side arrests and even enhance charges and penalties based on prior illicit activity. That said, legal systems must account for such technological evidence in court. Harmonized legal finish across the Gulf of Guinea must be a central focus, as that is the only way to change the risk-reward calculus and ensure that no state or zone becomes a magnet for crime.

In a larger, more strategic sense, the individual states and regional bodies pursuing greater maritime security and development in the Gulf of Guinea must also work together to harmonize their more foundational approaches to the challenges facing the region. Too often stakeholders presented with the chance to cooperate or collaborate in confronting such issues fall into the trap of viewing that effort in terms of false dichotomies. They may rightly be keen to exercise autonomy in light of a history in which their sovereignty has been compromised. But they may also unhelpfully misinterpret the cooperative and collaborative harmonization of approaches as being a threat to sovereignty. In an effort to maintain their autonomy, they may therefore isolate themselves, and consequently become more of a magnet to the highly cooperative, transnational criminals they face.

Exercising autonomy Losing sovereignty
Isolating Cooperating and collaborating

This diagram reveals how the terms of a dichotomy are never simply binary, but actually part of a cluster of related terms that are often conflated, or defined in varying ways.2 Failing to get outside the “box” formed by these choices can narrow vision and obstruct communication, and thus frustrate efforts at progress. The stakeholders in the Gulf of Guinea must clarify for themselves and each other the difference between exercising autonomy and isolating themselves, and between cooperating or collaborating and losing sovereignty. If everyone can achieve this “outside-the-box” clarity, progress can happen quickly and effectively. While many of the maritime operators recognize these nuanced dynamics, they have a challenge to overcome in convincing their political leadership to move past a limiting dichotomy centered on autonomy, and instead embrace cooperation and recognize the value in sharing resources and technology to secure, govern, and develop the maritime space in the Gulf of Guinea.

The work of maritime professionals in West and Central Africa to pursue safety, security, and sustainability in the maritime domain has already led to some notable successes. Now it is in a position to begin realizing the ambitious vision of successfully securing, governing, and developing the region’s maritime domain. This is where new, better, and more effectively used technology can play a pivotal role by enabling individual states and regional bodies to make far more effective use of their resources to control the maritime space. Stakeholders must now select the right tools for the job – those that provide the necessary precision, simplicity of use, cost-effectiveness, and ability to link efforts across both agencies and maritime boundaries.

Ian Ralby is a recognized expert in maritime law and security, serving as Adjunct Professor of Maritime Law and Security at the US Department of Defense’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies; a Maritime Crime Expert for UNODC; and as CEO of I.R. Consilium, a family business that works matters of security, governance and development.

David Soud is Head of Research and Analysis at I.R. Consilium and works on issues at the intersection of fisheries governance and transnational organized crime.

Rohini Ralby is Managing Director of I.R. Consilium and works on strategy development and implementation.

References

1. A recent public-private conference organized by the US firm I.R. Consilium, LLC in Freetown, Sierra Leone explored this topic and served as the basis for the key points of this article.

2. The diagram is an example of the “fourchotomy,” a strategic tool devised by Rohini Ralby.

Featured Image:  GULF OF GUINEA (April 2, 2014) A U.S. Coast Guard law enforcement detachment member and a Ghanaian navy sailor inspect a fishing vessel suspected of illegal fishing during the Africa Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership. The partnership is the operational phase of Africa Partnership Station and brings together U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, and respective Africa partner maritime forces to actively patrol that partner’s territorial waters and economic exclusion zone with the goal of intercepting vessels that may have been involved in illicit activity. (U.S. Navy photo by Kwabena Akuamoah-Boateng/Released)

Drones in Africa: A Leap Ahead for Maritime Security

By CAPT Chris Rawley and LCDR Cedric Patmon

Technology adoption moves in fits and starts. The developing world cannot be forced into accepting new technology, but it can be enabled, and often in a surprising manner. A recent example is the leap in communications technology. During the 20th Century most of the world developed a robust network of terrestrial-based telecommunications based primarily on the ubiquitous land-line telephone system. Without this infrastructure in place Sub-Saharan African countries were largely left behind at the start of the information revolution. But at the turn of the new century something interesting happened. Rather than retroactively building an archaic phone system Africans embraced mobile phone technology. From 1999 through 2004 the number of mobile subscribers in Africa eclipsed those of other continents, increasing at a rate of 58 percent annually. Asia, the second fastest area of saturation, grew at only 34 percent during that time. The explosive growth of mobile phones and more recently smart phones across practically every African city and village has liberated economies and facilitated the free flow of information. This technology also enabled Africans to lead the world in mobile money payment solutions, bypassing increasingly obsolete banking systems.

Today, Africans have another opportunity to leap ahead in technology to protect one of their most important areas of commerce – their coastal seas. Africa’s maritime economy is absolutely critical to the continent’s growth and prosperity during the next few decades. On the edge of the Eastern Atlantic the Gulf of Guinea is bordered by eight West African nations, and is an extremely important economic driver. More than 450 million Africans derive commercial benefit from this body of water. The region contains 50.4 billion barrels of proven petroleum reserves and has produced up to 5.5 million barrels of oil per day. Additionally, over 90 percent of foreign imports and exports cross the Gulf of Guinea making it the region’s key connector to the global economy.

Favorable demographics and industrious populations put coastal Africans in a position to prosper, but an increase in illegal fishing activities and piracy since the early 2000s has severely impeded this potential. The growth in acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea in the Gulf of Guinea from 2000 onward points to the challenges faced by West African states.

According to Quartz Africa, illegal fishing activities in the region have a negative economic impact of $2-3 billion annually. “Fish stocks are not restricted to national boundaries, and that is why the solutions to end the overfishing of West Africa’s waters can only come from joint efforts between the countries of the region,” Ahmed Diame, Greenpeace’s Africa Oceans campaigner, said in a statement. Marine pollution, human, and narcotics trafficking are also major issues facing the region.

Due to the economic impact of illicit activities in and around West Africa a Summit of the Gulf of Guinea heads of state and government was held in 2013 in Yaoundé, Cameroon. This resulted in the adoption of the Yaoundé Declaration on Gulf of Guinea Security. Two key resolutions contained in the Declaration were the creation of an inter-regional Coordination Centre on Maritime Safety and Security for Central and West Africa, headquartered in Yaoundé, and the implementation of a new Code of Conduct Concerning the Prevention and Repression of Piracy, Armed Robbery Against Ships, and Illegal Maritime Activities in West and Central Africa. Adoption of this agreement has laid the foundation for critical information sharing and resource cooperation that can be used to combat piracy, illegal fishing, and other illicit activities in the Gulf of Guinea.

Though the Code of Conduct established an architecture for maritime security in the region, without enforcement on the water, diplomatic efforts are largely impotent. Key to enforcement is the ability to identify, track, and prosecute nefarious actors on the high seas and in coastal areas. So-called maritime domain awareness is gradually improving in the area, but current options for maritime surveillance are limited. The largest local navies have offshore patrol vessels capable of multi-day over-the-horizon operations, but even these vessels have limited enforcement capacity. Patrol vessels face maintenance issues and fuel scarcity. Shore-based radar systems at best reach out 30 or 40 nautical miles, but are plagued by power and maintenance issues. Moreover, a shore-based radar, even with signals correlated from vessels transmitting on the Automatic Identification System, only provides knowledge that a contact is afloat, not necessarily any evidence to illicit actions.

Latin American navies face similar maritime challenges to those in Africa and have learned that airborne surveillance is simply the best way to locate, track, identify, and classify surface maritime targets involved in illicit or illegal activity. A retired senior naval officer from the region related a study in the Caribbean narcotics transit zone to one of the authors that compared different surveillance mechanisms for the 11,000 square nautical mile area. The probability of detecting a surface target within six hours rose from only five percent with a surface asset to 95 percent when maritime patrol aircraft were included. Only a handful of coastal African countries have fixed-wing maritime patrol aircraft and helicopters, but these aircraft face similar issues to surface assets with fuel costs and mechanical readiness resulting in limited flight time on station.

Drone Solutions to African Maritime Insecurity

Unmanned aerial systems (UAS), or drones, as they are known colloquially, provide a way for African navies and coast guards to greatly enhance maritime security in a relatively inexpensive manner, similar to the ways mobile telephony revolutionized communications on the continent. Similar to the evolution of computing power outlined by Moore’s law tactical UAS are rapidly growing in capabilities while decreasing in cost. Improvements in sensors, endurance, and payload are advancing quickly. For any solution, acquisition cost, maintainability, and infrastructure required are key factors to be considered. The cost per flying hour of most UAS is negligible compared to their manned counterparts. Today’s fixed and rotary-wing systems, whether specifically designed for military use or for commercial applications, can be adapted for surveillance in a maritime environment without much additional cost.

A Falcon UAV unpiloted aircraft is bungee launched in a midday demonstration flight. (© Helge Denker/WWF-Namibia)

Because each country has unique requirements and budgets no single UAS solution is appropriate. Maritime drones can be based ashore or on coastal patrol vessels. One viable option for countries with limited resources involves services contracted by Western Partners, a model which has already been proven in the region for other applications. Alternatively, the Yaoundé Code of Conduct provides a framework for a possible shared model. This agreement can provide the timely sharing of critical information ascertained by maritime surveillance and reconnaissance systems to aid in the enforcement of the maritime laws and agreements in the region. Contractor-operated drones could be allocated across countries by leadership in the five Zones delineated by the Code. Multinational cooperation on maritime security has already been tested in the annual Obangame Express exercise and during real-world counterpiracy operations. Understanding that not all countries have the investment capability to purchase their own stand-alone systems, consideration could be given to sharing the initial investment costs between countries. The logistics of system placement and asset availability would have to be determined by the participating countries themselves but the benefit of such a program would positively impact the entire region economically, enhance interoperability, and assist in regional stability.

Drones are already being operated across Africa by Africans. Zambia recently purchased Hermes 450 unmanned aerial vehicles for counter-poaching operations. There are also African unmanned systems flying surveillance missions over areas plagued by violent extremists groups. UAS are even being used to transport blood and medical supplies across the continent’s vast rural landscapes. Shifting these assets over water is a natural progression. One concern about using UAS is airspace deconfliction. However, this problem is minimized because there is little to no civil aviation in most parts of Africa. Additionally, most maritime UAS would be flying primarily at low altitudes over water from coastal bases.

Conclusion

The leap-ahead capabilities that unmanned surveillance aircraft could provide to coastal security around Africa are clearly evident. African navies with adequate resources should make acquisition of unmanned air systems a priority. Likewise, western foreign military assistance programs should focus on providing contracted or organic unmanned aircraft capabilities.

Captain Rawley, a surface warfare officer, and Lieutenant Commander Patmon, a naval aviator, are assigned to the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet’s Maritime Partnership Program detachment responsible for helping West African countries enhance their maritime security. The opinions in this article are those of the authors alone and do not officially represent the U.S. Navy or any other organization

Featured Image: GULF OF GUINEA (March 26, 2018) A visit board search and seizure team member from the Ghanaian special boat service communicates with his team during a search aboard a target vessel during exercise Obangame Express 2018, March 26. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Theron J. Godbold/Released)

European Answers for African Questions?

Maritime Security Topic Week

By Dirk Siebels

Introduction

Maritime security challenges have received increasing attention in Europe in recent years. In 2014, the Council of the European Union adopted the first EU Maritime Security Strategy which includes a comprehensive definition of maritime security from a European standpoint. The EU understands it “as a state of affairs of the global maritime domain, in which international law and national law are enforced, freedom of navigation is guaranteed and citizens, infrastructure, transport, the environment and marine resources are protected.” In short, maritime security comprises much more than the traditional questions related to seapower and naval strategies.

Furthermore, the document underlines the EU’s capacity to engage with other organizations such as the African Union which “has a direct impact on its ability to safeguard its interests and to strengthen regional and international maritime security.” Africa matters, not only because of migrants boarding rickety boats in Libya to embark on a dangerous trip to Europe. At the same time, European and African governments often have different agendas, underlined by the many challenges to maritime security emanating from the African coastline.

Narrow Focus in the Indian Ocean

Counter-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean are a perfect example of a maritime security challenge. When attacks by Somalia-based groups became a major worry for the shipping industry, the international community quickly reacted. The EU launched its ‘Operation Atalanta’ in 2008, complemented by other task forces from various NATO countries and other countries like Japan and China, who deployed independently of the task forces.

The question of whether attacks by Somali pirates really justified the large-scale military response is open for debate. Nevertheless, European involvement in the fight against the perceived threat on one of the world’s busiest shipping routes underlined the importance of maritime trade routes for the continent. Almost without warning, European maritime security was suddenly threatened by men armed with AK-47s and RPGs in small skiffs rather than more traditional scenarios that military planners had always imagined.

Capturing suspected pirates off the coast of Somalia. Image courtesy of the European Union Naval Force. Somalia, 2012.

From a European perspective, the naval response to this non-traditional threat has been largely successful. Even though military officers and shipping industry representatives agree that the threat remains dormant and could resurface in the future, the number of attacks by Somali pirates dropped significantly within a short time. That success was made possible by unprecedented cooperation between naval forces and the shipping industry, as well as self-protection measures of merchant vessels, including the use of privately contracted armed security personnel. At the same time, the EU and other international organizations were heavily involved in capacity-building on land in Somalia.

Successful counter-piracy operations notwithstanding, maritime security in the Indian Ocean region has not been strengthened by a narrow focus during these operations. Whether through the EU or on a bilateral basis, European governments would have the capacities to provide assistance for sustainable projects in African countries. New European-built infrastructure, however, has not been linked to existing organizational structures, namely to the regional economic communities (RECs). Cooperation with security agencies in East Africa has also been limited. As a retired admiral from a NATO nation put it, “We have talked a lot about the region since our navies started operating in the Indian Ocean, but we have not talked a lot with people from the region.”

Failed integration of the RECs is arguably the most notable problem for the long-term sustainability of regional maritime security capacities. These organizations are the cornerstone for peace and security on the African continent. While ambitious plans for the African Peace and Security Architecture have not materialized yet, strengthening capacities within existing organisations would certainly be more sustainable than creating parallel structures in the context of counter-piracy operations.

EU NAVFOR piracy incidents (EU NAVFOR—Atalanta photos)

Somali piracy has never been high on the agenda of governments in East Africa. Attention for maritime topics in general remains limited but problems such as smuggling of drugs and weapons, the illegal wildlife trade or illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing are a much higher priority. In some countries, notably in Mozambique and Tanzania, security for the fledgling offshore gas industry is another important issue. European partners would be well-advised to take these priorities into consideration.

Broad challenges in West Africa

West Africa is another region where piracy has been the most headline-grabbing maritime security problem in recent years.i From a European point of view, these attacks are less of a threat since they do not take place close to a major international shipping route. Nevertheless, the EU became involved, underlined by the ‘Strategy on the Gulf of Guinea’ and the Gulf of Guinea Action Plan 2015-2020.’ Both documents highlight the EU’s strategic objectives in West Africa: a common understanding of threats, support for multi-agency institutions in the region, strengthened cooperation structures, and above all, the development of prosperous economies.

Practical measures, however, have been extremely limited. In October 2016, the Gulf of Guinea Inter-regional Network (GoGIN) was launched, a four-year, €9.3m project supported by the EU and the government of Denmark. The aim of the project is the allocation of funds to regional or national endeavors to promote maritime security and combat piracy. Like CRIMGO, its predecessor project, GoGIN will be implemented by Expertise France, the French development agency. The agency undoubtedly possesses a lot of regional knowledge in West Africa but it is also a vital tool for the French government to secure political influence, particularly in francophone countries.

Capacity building in West Africa does not have to include large-scale financial commitments by partners from Europe or elsewhere. Similar to East Africa, however, it requires a focus on regional priorities to be sustainable. In the past, European involvement in the provision of maritime security in West Africa has largely been limited to the fight against piracy and armed robbery and, on a more limited scale, against drug smuggling on maritime routes.

Similar to East Africa, however, the priorities of regional governments are notably different from those of the EU. For many countries in West Africa, illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing is the most important threat in the maritime environment, even though it is not a traditional security concern. Limited maritime situational awareness and almost non-existent law enforcement at sea are aspects that will not be changed overnight but even small-scale NGO projects have shown that improvements are possible even in the short term. European governments certainly have the necessary capacities to provide assistance, but political will is an entirely different question.

Even in areas that are more closely related to traditional maritime security threats, European involvement in West Africa is generally not based on long-term planning. Training courses and other projects are rarely coordinated among partners, availability of relevant personnel is not taken into consideration, and overall goals are unlikely to be based on the priorities of partners in West Africa. Such criticism is mentioned time and again in conversations with naval officers and law enforcement officials from West Africa but does not seem to reach Europe.

Conclusion

European maritime security may not be directly threatened by challenges off the African coastline, but they certainly have an influence on Europe. Addressing these challenges as early as possible would be important to prevent a possible escalation, yet that is true for security challenges in general. Due to the international nature of the maritime environment, however, a lack of security at sea is likely to have an impact on several countries, creating the need for multinational solutions.

The European Union is in a unique position to strengthen maritime security, both at home and abroad. In theory, the combination of civilian and military measures is the perfect fit for a broad range of largely non-traditional maritime security challenges, ranging from piracy and armed robbery at sea to IUU fishing. In practice, however, the EU’s potential is often wasted by concentrating on areas that are important for European governments while failing to address the agendas of partnering governments.

In the Indian Ocean, counter-piracy operations have been very successful but based on a very narrow mandate. Other challenges to maritime security in the region have hardly been addressed so far. This might change in the future; amending the Djibouti Code of Conduct in January 2017 certainly was a step in the right direction. The document was adopted by governments around the western Indian Ocean in 2009 but originally was only concerned with the suppression of piracy. It took signatories around eight years to broaden the document with the Jeddah Amendment, signalling their intention to strengthen the ‘blue economy.’

In West Africa, a similar document was already adopted in 2013 and the European Union has signaled its intention to support implementation. So far, however, that support has been sketchy at best, and one of the EU’s main goals, the development of prosperous economies around the Gulf of Guinea, remains elusive. Addressing maritime security challenges alone will not immediately lead to economic growth, but it would certainly be an important step. The focus on maritime security in the wider context of the ‘blue economy,’ however, is not a traditional task for navies in Europe and will require better coordination between a wide range of partners such as governments, NGOs, and law enforcement agencies outside the military.

Dirk Siebels works as an analyst for Risk Intelligence. His research areas include maritime security issues in sub-Saharan Africa and he presents regularly at academic and military research institutions on related topics. Before starting to work in his current role, Dirk served as an officer in the German Navy and worked as a journalist and PR consultant for several years. He holds an MA in International Studies from Durham University and is currently working on a PhD in maritime security at the University of Greenwich. The views presented here are those of the author.

Endnotes

i West Africa in this context includes all coastal and island nations between Senegal in the north and Angola in the south. These countries are members of ECOWAS or ECCAS, the two regional economic communities for West and Central Africa, and have adopted the Yaoundé Code of Conduct to strengthen maritime security in the region.

Featured Image:Italian Frigate Scirocco Rescues Somali Fishermen (EU-NAVFOR)