Tuesday, June 25, 2013

African Leaders Discuss Gulf of Guinea Security

Jonathan, other African leaders resolve to secure Gulf of Guinea

TUESDAY, 25 JUNE 2013 20:55
Nigerian Guardian

AFTER what seems a long period of vacillation, heads of state of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), their counterparts in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) as well as officials of the Gulf of Guinea Commission (GGC) have finally taken the bull by the horns in the charge to make the Gulf of Guinea safer and more secure.

Leaders of the 25 states that make up the gulf agreed yesterday at the end of their special summit on maritime safety and security, in the Camerounian capital, to establish an Inter regional coordinating centre in Yaounde, to tackle headlong escalating piracy, trafficking and other illicit activities in the strategic region.

Fielding questions from newsmen on the sidelines of the summit, Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan declared that the end was near to the excesses of piracy with the commitment and determination of all the concerned leaders and countries.

He noted that the highest number of attacks were on the Nigerian waters as a result of the high volume of oil industry activities and trade, assuring that the leaders of the West African Coast and the Central African Coast would expand cooperation to check the illicit activities that were hampering economic growth of the region.

Jonathan, who commended the host president, Paul Biya, for successfully hosting the summit, expressed happiness with the way the conference ended.

His words: “The key thing about this conference is the issue of piracy and armed robbery in our coastal waters of which of course you know we have quite a number of attacks in Nigeria because of the volume of oil industry activities and the trade being a very big country.

“The only way we can contain it is for the countries within the Central African Region and West African Region to come together. Already, Nigeria and Benin have been partnering but we need to expand across the coast, the West African Coast and the Central African Coast. So, this is the beginning of the end of these excesses of piracy, so we are quite pleased with the conference”.

Meanwhile, a United Nations (UN) report this month drawing its data from the International Maritime Bureau, said piracy affected more ships and sailors off West Africa than off Somalia’s coast last year, and cost West Africa up to $950 million last year.

Also, nearly 1,000 seafarers and fishermen were attacked by pirates armed with guns or knives in the Gulf of Guinea where more than 200 people were taken hostage.

Proclaimed yesterday as the “Yaounde Declaration”, the renewed efforts by the leaders is a direct response to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2018 of 2011 and 2039 of 2012 on the Gulf of Guinea urging states to pull resources together with an assurance that a regional anti piracy strategy will get the requisite support of the global body and it’s affiliated international organizations.

The Gulf of Guinea is the northeastern part of the tropical Atlantic Ocean between Cape Lopez in Gabon, north and west to Cape Palmas in Liberia. The intersection of the Equator and Prime Meridian (zero degrees latitude and longitude) is also the gulf.

Of the twelve coastal states (stretching from Cape Verde to Angola) in the gulf, Nigeria has the largest maritime border.

Last month, a Nigerian vessel was attacked by sea pirates.

In an unreported development but now confirmed by security officials, last week, pirates in speedboats attacked an oil supply vessel and kidnapped four Indian and Polish crew members in increasingly dangerous waters off Nigeria’s coast. The gunmen launched their assault on the Singapore-flagged tugboat MDPL Continental One around 30 nautical miles from land. Subsequently, the vessel was ransacked and four crewmembers were taken hostage off the coast of the oil-producing Niger Delta.

A various times, the UNSC and sundry regional security think tanks have warned that left unchecked, the expanding insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea risks significantly endangering global trade, regional development and stability as the region becomes more sought after for oil and its strategic location.

Addressing the leaders in Yaounde, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon noted that the leaders have the responsibility of keeping the situation from escalating even as the regional anti-piracy strategy requires tremendous financial resources for effective implementation.

Delivering a speech through his special Representative and head of the UN regional office for Central Africa Abou Mousa, Ban said “less than two years ago (October 2011), the Security Council, issues it’s first ever resolution on this issue, calling on countries of the gulf of Guinea to develop a comprehensive response to piracy and armed robbery at sea. You have met this challenge head on... Now you should be reviewing the building blocks of a regional strategy developed with the support of the UN.”

Jonathan, who had a bilateral meeting with his Republic of Benin counterpart, Boni Yayi, on the margins of the summit, did not make any address at the summit’s plenary. The chairman of the ECOWAS authority of heads of state and president of Cote d’Ivoire Alhassane Ouattara spoke for the region wherein he stressed the urgent need for inter-regional cooperation to save states in the gulf from losing more revenue due to the illegal criminal activities in the area.

Nigeria’s high powered delegation consisted president Jonathan, the ministers of defense, Justice, Interior, Transport, minister of state for foreign affairs as well as a technical hand, Nigeria’s envoy to the Republic of Benin, Ambassador Lawrence Obisankin.

The Yaounde Declaration adopted yesterday is also meant to collect and share information in a coordinated manner, raise awareness of the strategic nature of the maritime sector, help develop national policies on the fight against piracy, armed robbery, etc, besides putting in place the put an Inter-regional coordinating centre.

In their final communique read by the Angola’s Candido dos Santos Van-Dunem at a session coordinated by the chair of ECCAS and president of Chad Idris Derby, the leaders affirmed the fundamental text of ECCAS, ECOWAS and GGC on good governance. They said their partners in the newly found alliance on maritime security such as of the United States (U.S.), France Britain, Russia, China, Japan, Brazil, would be expected to intervene in the huge financial outlay needed to jointly police the volatile gulf of guinea.

Addressing a session on coordination yesterday, the ECOWAS Commission President Kadre Desire Ouadraogo said the sub-regional group would take the lead in the efforts to have greater synergy with a boarding regional community. Of late, West African countries have a preponderance of maritime security issues.

The leaders also adopted and signed a declaration of safety and security in their common maritime border and directed ECAS, ECOWAS and GGC to operationalise the decision contained in the declaration with the support of the development partners.

Biya, while closing the summit, stressed that his country was “pleased by the climate of trust. It cannot be otherwise as we are mindful of the challenges to make our oceans safer and more secure. Illicit activities in the seas, coast and continental shelves bring huge stress to our governments, hence our decision to implement UN Resolution 2039.

We will achieve it through efficient coordination of our efforts. The Inter regional coordinating centre to be established in Yaounde would only ensure that we would no longer be surprised by the ingenuity of pirates. We have also welcomed the AU (African Union) ‘s continental maritime strategy billed for 2015.

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