We are used to broad discussions on procurement and force development. The pre-requirement requirements have to be vetted by a blue-ribbon committee for vetting before formal review for potential review. After a semester of National Security and Defense Industrial Capacity at Georgetown, it was like whiplash sitting in African Security and hearing a Senegalese officer discuss his one-man assignment to develop requirements for, procure, and fly aircraft back to Senegal for the Armée de l’Air Sénégalaise. Such breathtaking freedom comes with a price, since the procurement program consisted of only one aircraft.
Strategic September is a project dedicated to the grand art of Strategy, from force planning to the blue ribbon commissions as the colossal body of “Blue Force” navies the world over make ponderous course corrections. From 7-13 October, we will discuss the potential for our yet developing compatriots south of the Mediterranean. These are not merely the conventional problems of defining missions and smaller budgets. While a vast body of work is dedicated to “security assistance”, we will endeavor to discuss the internal challenges, solutions, and questions faced by African Navies. The Senegalese officer not only discussed procurement, but the harrowing issues of government corruption, loyalty to the goverment vs. the state, and the disturbing threat of coups in nearby nations. We pursue the challenges of professionalism, sailors duel-hatting as pirates by night, patronage recruiting, and the like. Join us, won’t you?
Matt Hipple is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.
This is the ninth and final regular post in our Maritime Futures Project. For more information on the contributors, click here. Note: The opinions and views expressed in these posts are those of the authors alone and are presented in their personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of their parent institution U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, any other agency, or any other foreign government.
LT Drew Hamblen, USN: Navy’s experiments with biofuels will fizzle out as an abundance of natural gas and crude oil prices it out of the market.
Felix Seidler, seidlers-sicherheitspolitik.net, Germany:
The international maritime security debate is dominated by U.S. future capabilities, European decline, and the Asian arms race – in particular China. Yet beyond that Brazil will be an interesting player. The country seems to pursue an ambitious fleet-building agenda. Moreover, Brazil trained China’s carrier pilots. With a mid- to long-term perspective, a Brazilian blue-water navy might go on expeditionary tours – not to win wars per se, but to take part in international operations or underline Brazil’s new geopolitical status. Why shouldn’t Brazilian and Chinese carriers visit each other’s countries to deepen political ties between both governments?
Bryan McGrath, Director, Delex Consulting, Studies and Analysis: Most of my predictions will be wrong.
Sebastian Bruns, Fellow, Institute for Security, University of Kiel, Germany: “A ship in port is safe, but that is not what ships are built for” – Attributed to Benazir Bhutto
CDR Chuck Hill, USCG (Ret.): In the most likely conflicts, large numbers of vessels will be needed to perform blockade and marine policing to prevent use of the use of the seas for transport of weapons, supplies, and personnel. We will never have “enough.” The U.S. Coast Guard will be needed to supply some of them.
Biometrics, the ability to positively identify individuals, is already in use in counter-piracy operations and may become important in tracking down terrorists and agents in unconventional asymmetric conflicts.
States led by China will attempt to reinterpret the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to apply the restrictions and requirements of Innocent Passage to the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as well as the Territorial Sea. Most important is Article 58 Section 3 of UNCLOS: “In exercising their rights and performing their duties under this Convention in the EEZ, States shall have due regard to the rights and duties of the coastal State and shall comply with the laws and regulations adopted by the coastal State in accordance with the provisions of this Convention and other rules of international law in so far as they are not incompatible with this Part.” China will interpret this to mean that anything other than expeditious transit including “spying,” “hovering,” flight ops, and submerged operations might be considered illegal.
LCDR Mark Munson, USN:
The notion of an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is not new (the formal definition of it extending out 200 nautical miles dates to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), but it seems to increasingly be at the heart of the various maritime disputes. China’s differences with its neighbors in the South and East China Seas revolve around the desire to secure control of underwater resources by maximizing its EEZ. In addition, China has advocated a state’s right to control or regulate the military activities of other states occurring in its EEZ. If accepted by the rest of the world (which most countries currently do not), such a notion would significantly impact the ability of states like the U.S. to operate forward at sea like it traditionally has. In addition, it is the realization of the negative impacts of a state’s inability to enforce activity in its EEZ (such as piracy in Somalia, maritime banditry and oil theft in the Gulf of Guinea) that has led many states to realize that capable maritime security forces are important, although they may not be able to afford them.
YN2(SW) Michael George, USN: The U.S. Navy is a vital force in our nation’s defense and will continue to be vital to providing secure waterways around the world. But the fact that it is a national navy and not an international one will cause leaders in other countries to make greater efforts to become more self-reliant.
LT Jake Bebber, USN: Few in the U.S. want war with China, and few in China want war with the U.S. That being said, the wisdom of the ancients suggests that we are on a collision course. 2,500 years ago, Thucydides wrote “The growth of the power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Lacedaemon, made war inevitable.” Fear, power and interest, often involving third parties (see Corcyra in 440 B.C. or Japan today), drive nations to war, and human behavior remains largely unchanged over the last 5,000 years of recorded history, despite our fallacious belief in “progress.” War will come when it is most inconvenient, unexpected, dangerous, and costly – not when we are prepared.
LT Alan Tweedie, USNR: DDG 1000 will cost even more than we expect and none of the three we are building will ever see 20 years of service life. Neither this ship nor anything else like it will be a part of our Navy’s future.
LT Scott Cheney-Peters, USNR: These are a little further out in left field, and focus a bit more on geopolitics than the predictions made to earlier questions, so I fully expect them to make me look a bit ridiculous in the years ahead:
While much has been written about Brazil’s burgeoning economic power – slowing of late – and the nation’s drive to reinvigorate its naval capabilities, it will be Columbia and Mexico that surprise the Western Hemisphere’s observers with their growing naval clout. The focus of these nations’ fleets will also shift from the traditional hemispheric concerns to protecting trade ties to Africa and Asia. This is of course predicated on both countries’ ability to keep a lid on domestic discontent and violence while extending their economic booms. Other South American armadas – such as those of Peru, Uruguay, and Chile – will endeavor to maintain their small but professional capabilities, and undertake a similar drive (underway in many cases) to boost ties across the Pacific and Atlantic.
The leaders of both Cuba and Venezuela have not long to live, yet neither change at the top will mean much in terms of naval policy. Both nations may seek to defrost relations with the U.S. and strengthen integration in cooperative regional maritime efforts – although again, little change from now.
The professionalization of Africa’s maritime forces will continue apace in those nations enjoying peaceful transitions of government. Cooperative regional efforts will combat the threats of piracy, maritime robberies, and drug-running – but the dangers will continue at modest levels and readily flourish in any coastal power vacuum. Counter-drug ops will prove the hardest to due to pervasive levels of corruption in states such as Guinea-Bissau.
The Persian/Arabian Gulf will remain a tinderbox – not due to a looming confrontation with Iran, but because the Arab Spring has yet to fully play out on (or off the coast of) the Arabian Peninsula. I don’t presume to know the outcome or timeline, but escalating repression of the Shia majority in Bahrain could lead to untenable situation for the U.S. Fifth Fleet HQ, and/or a change of government.
Lastly, in Asia, the oft-overlooked Indonesia has the potential to develop into a naval power in its own right. The nation’s leadership has aspirations of becoming a key player in South Asia, and it will likely attempt to play the role of a non-aligned honest broker in any regional stand-off. If you’re looking for good coverage of Indonesia (and its ties with Australia), check out the sites Security Scholar and ASPI.
Of course, we could always just end up with this:
Simon Williams, U.K.: Something this writer believes policy makers and the military should be mindful of in the coming decades will be the increasing significance of the maritime realm in dictating the machinations and dynamic of international relations. Not only are burgeoning economic powers in the Far East developing credible naval forces to guard their interests, but, having suffered a bloody nose in a protracted counter-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan, Britain and the United States will find it difficult to conjure up the public support for any ground operations in the near future.
LCDR Joe Baggett, USN: No predictions – Just observations: – In my opinion, the United States and its partners find themselves competing for global influence in an era in which they are unlikely to be fully at war or fully at peace. – The security, prosperity, and vital interests of the United States are increasingly coupled to those of other nations. – We must be as equally committed to preventing wars as we are to winning them. – As ADM Locklear once said “I value surface forces that are: 1) Sufficient in number: you have to be there in order to make a difference 2) Capable, both offensively and defensively: our lethality must be compelling, and our presence re-assuring to our allies 3) Ready, both in proficiency to the full range of potential missions and in proximity to where they’re needed 4) Relevant: the right mix of the above factors to achieve the broad missions sets assigned.”
The International Crisis Group (ICG) recently released a report* on maritime security challenges in the Gulf of Guinea. As usual from ICG, the analysis is excellent and informative, with reasonable policy recommendations to address the problems associated with increasing security challenges afloat (piracy, oil theft, smuggling, illegal fishing) in the region. Unfortunately, there is little chance that the proposed courses of action will be pursued or efforts by regional states or organizations will be up to addressing these challenges.
What ICG calls “piracy” (beyond the traditional legal scope) is increasing…42 attacks, 168 hostages kidnapped, and 4 deaths between January and September of 2012. What had been primarily a problem in Nigeria’s Niger Delta has expanded, with attacks or raids in neighboring Benin, Togo, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Cameroon, and Equatorial Guinea since 2009. In an accompanying Op-ed at Foreign Policy, ICG’s Thierry Vircoulon argues that maritime security in West Africa is important, both to the states in the region that want to benefit by tapping into their national resources, and the rest of the world that increasingly depends on oil from the region (40% of Europe’s oil is imported from the Gulf of Guinea, and 29% of the U.S.’s).
The ICG’s first recommendation is to improve the economy in the coastal regions of the Gulf, thereby diminishing the need for locals to pursue illicit activities afloat as a livelihood. Unfortunately, precedents for Nigerian economic policies in the Niger Delta do not make it seem likely that countries in the region will begin to “boost job creation along the coast, in particular by protecting artisanal fishing, stimulating the local fish-processing industry, providing professional training for vulnerable sectors of the population” any time soon.
The second set of recommendations entail improved maritime security forces for the region. Once again, this is a laudable goal, but it’s unclear who would pay for expanded and better-trained navies and coast guards for at least half-a-dozen African states. Even factoring in potential aid from the U.S., Europe, or China it’s not clear how a “donated” navy would be able to be enough of an effective deterrent against local pirates and criminals.
The third set of recommendations revolve around establishing bilateral and regional frameworks for combined afloat operations. Whether in the context of ECCAS (Economic Community of Central African States) and ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), combined patrols between states such as Nigeria and neighbors such as Benin and Cameroon, or improved intelligence sharing relationships, these types of operations would be essential to stopping the current insecurity.
There are numerous challenges to implementing this sort of regional cooperation. however. First, “maritime cooperation is still in its infancy and is hampered by political tensions and distrust of neighbouring states toward Nigeria.” Nigeria and Benin have begun to cooperate and conduct combined patrols, with Operation Prosperity starting in 2011. However, Benin has virtually no Navy, Coast Guard, or maritime security force. According to Janes, Benin’s Navy consists of three patrol craft, but one vessel dates from the late 1980s and isn’t believed to be operational, and the current status of the other two donated by China in 2000 is unclear. Thus Nigeria bears the brunt of responsibility for patrolling Benin’s waters, which is good in the sense that they now have the authority to pursue criminals operating there, but bad in the sense that they have in the past shown limited ability to control illicit actors in their own waters, let alone next door.
The shortcomings of these proposed solutions point to one of the biggest problems with addressing maritime security challenges in West Africa as “piracy,” in that much of this criminal activity isn’t piracy at all. Much occurs within the various states’ territorial waters, while under the traditional definition per international law, piracy occurs in international waters. In these instances, the problem is one of criminals based in one state traveling to the territorial waters of a neighboring country to commit crimes afloat. The difficulty isn’t that these acts occur on the high seas where no one has jurisdiction, but rather, because they happen in someone else’s jurisdiction. A partnership where Nigerian criminals on the water can be pursued by effective maritime security forces across borders is essential, but seems unlikely unless an international sense of urgency increases.
Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a Naval Intelligence officer currently serving on the OPNAV staff. He has previously served at Naval Special Warfare Group FOUR, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and onboard USS Essex (LHD 2). The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official viewpoints or policies of the Department of Defense or the US Government.
*Although this link is a summary, the actual full report is in French, the promised English version has yet to be published
* UPDATE: ICG has posted the English translation of the full report.
Gulf of Guinea Pirate Attacks in 2012. Source: IMB
On August 4, 2012, pirates attacked an oil barge, killing two local security personnel and kidnapping four foreign workers. Two weeks later, pirates hijacked and held for five days a British-managed oil tanker as they unloaded its cargo, a style of attack that repeated the following fortnight on a much larger Greek owned tanker.
While such events were routine of late off the coast of Somalia, these attacks occurred on the other side of the continent, in the West African territorial waters of Nigeria and Togo. Piracy has now declined in the Indian Ocean—a trend attributed to international naval patrols, the increased use of armed guards aboard ships, and political developments in Somalia—but in the Gulf of Guinea it is on the rise. The region reported 47 incidents of piracy (it is estimated that up to 60% of attacks go unreported) to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in 2010, a number which rose to 61 in 2011 and will likely be surpassed by 2012 figures.
Highlighting this growing danger, Lloyd’s Market Association, a London-based group of insurer representatives, recently added the Gulf of Guinea to its “Hull War, Strikes, Terrorism and Related Perils Listed Areas,” placing the waters of Nigeria and Benin in the same category as those of Somalia and Iraq. Seeking to examine the intricacies of this oft-overlooked security threat, this article intends to do three things in three posts: chart the evolution of West African piracy, assess whether or not a “Somalization” is occurring, and evaluate regional and international plans to combat the mounting crisis.
From Fishermen to “Freedom Fighters”
The problem of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea extends from Senegal in the north to Angola in the south, and affects over a dozen countries in between. The historical epicenter is Nigeria, where pirates have parasitically fed off the country’s oil boom since the 1970s. During Nigeria’s first iteration of piracy, the crime began as simple economic opportunism. Ransacking docked ships was common, while bolder pirates—equipped with little more than canoes and machetes—ventured slightly further from port in attempts to board and rob slow-moving vessels. The theft of crude oil from refueling or anchored ships, referred to as “bunkering,” also brought a tidy profit through resale on a black market that spans the continent.
In the early 2000s, a drastic change occurred as piracy, while remaining an economic-minded crime, became infused with politics. The basic grievance was that the federal government in Abuja had taken too great a share of Nigeria’s petroleum wealth, while distributing little back to the oil-soaked communities of the Niger Delta. A plethora of militant groups emerged to “reddress” the oil issue during this period, the most significant of which was the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).
Seen by its practitioners as an effective tool for the “redistribution” of oil wealth, pirate attacks increased dramatically at the turn of the century. From 2000 to 2005, Nigeria’s waters were more pirate-prone than those of Somalia. By 2006 an estimated $1.5 billion in annual revenues for the country was lost through a combination of piracy, bunkering, and militant attacks on oil infrastructure.1
Politically motivated attacks on offshore platforms, the kidnapping of oil workers, and the theft of crude oil has challenged the traditional definition of piracy, as the crime is only recognized under international law if it is committed “for private ends.” Certain incidents are clearly socio-political in nature. In 2000, for example, militants stormed a Royal Dutch Shell oil storage platform, taking 165 employees hostage before releasing them in exchange for talks with the government.2
Piracy expert Martin Murphy concludes that in West Africa, the “line between the political and the criminal is hard to draw.”3 In Somalia, pioneering pirates first made claims of “restitution” for illegal foreign fishing and toxic dumping before expanding into indiscriminate hijacking and hostage taking, driven solely by profits. Similarly in the Gulf of Guinea, bunkering began as a form of economic protest but has grown into a multi-million dollar industry as oil tankers’ valuable cargos are robbed and resold.
Go Forth and Multiply
Attacks off the coast of Nigeria have ebbed and flowed in recent years. Intensified naval patrols and a 2009 government amnesty offered to Delta militants resulted in a decline in reported attacks – from a high of 42 in 2007 to 10 in 2011.4 Nigerian piracy has increased in 2012, however, with 23 incidents already reported in the first three quarters.
According to piracy expert J. Peter Pham, the gangs now operating across the Gulf of Guinea are “composed mainly of, and certainly led by, Nigerians, with perhaps a smattering of other nationalities.” They have shifted their operations into neighbouring states as the authorities there lack the capacity to survey and patrol their own waters.
Piracy is but one symptom of the lack of maritime order in the region, as endemic drug smuggling; human and weapons trafficking; and attacks against oil infrastructure have threatened to turn West Africa’s seaways into a criminal super-highway. These manifestations of maritime insecurity are linked, speculates Bronwyn Bruton, as international criminal syndicates previously involved in weapons and drug trafficking “[jump] on the pirate ship” as a new source of revenue. This claim was reiterated by Abdel Fatua Musah, Director of Political Affairs for the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), who reported to the UN Security Council that piracy has dovetailed into other forms of transnational organized crime.
Piracy and theft are believed to cost Nigeria 7% of its annual oil revenues. Benin’s port of Cotonou—taxes from which account for 40% of the country’s GDP—is witnessing a reported 70% decline in shipping activity due to piracy.5 In total, it is estimated that piracy costs the littoral states of the Gulf of Guinea an annual $2 billion in stolen cargo, rising insurance premiums, and other security costs. As the menace expands, the export of metals, cocoa, and agriculture products—vital to both local development and world markets—will also come under threat.
James Bridger is a Maritime Security Consultant and piracy specialist at Delex Systems Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article is a modified form of James’ work with the Atlantic Council of Canada’s Maritime Nation Programpublication “From Sea to Sea: The Search for Maritime Security“.
1. Martin Murphy, Small Boats, Weak States, Dirty Money: Piracy and Maritime Terrorism in the Modern World, London: Hurst and Company, 2009, pg. 117
2. Ibid, pg. 119
3. Ibid, pg. 122
4. International Maritime Bureau, “Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships: Report for 2011,” International Chamber of Commerce, January 2012.
5. “An Emerging Threat? Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea”.