Improved international cooperation and a greater willingness to use force against pirates are helping combat organized crime off Africa’s East coast, according to a report in AfricaBusiness.com.
East African piracy is not conquered but is getting under control while West Africa, where sea crimes deal mainly with oil, is the new battle front, the report said.
Calls went out this week for greater collaboration to combat piracy among agencies inside Africa at the annual Maritime & Coastal Security Africa conference and exhibition in Cape Town. More than 600 maritime and naval experts attended.
Speakers included naval leaders from South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Mozambique, Angola and the Netherlands.
Piracy in West Africa has deteriorated, said James Fisher, CEO of Paramount Naval Systems. His company is developing a fleet of multi-role patrol vessels.
“As stronger counter-piracy measures have developed in East Africa, criminal organisations have come to see coastal assets in West Africa as soft targets,” Fisher said. “The result is that the waters of the Gulf of Guinea are now the most dangerous in Africa for merchant shipping. Unless it is tackled quickly and effectively, piracy could do serious damage to West Africa’s oil and gas industry, slowing development for years to come.”
The solution, Fisher said, is not to seek international help to solve African problems, but to build African solutions. The development of a strong African shipbuilding industry means it is possible for African nations to find African solutions to the threat of piracy, he said.
The largest maritime defense and security event in Africa focused on the price of piracy as well as institutional and technological solutions to combat crimes at sea.
“We’ve moved on significantly since last year … in terms of international collaboration and technology, especially in the improvement of sensors,” said Prof. Renfrew Christie, conference chairman and dean of research at the University of the Western Cape. “Deep coalitions are needed amongst a whole set of agencies inside and outside countries to combat what is a very flexible and fast-moving enemy in organised crime.”
Christie likened the African Union’s 2050 Integrated Maritime Strategy to a battle plan that involves regional and sub-regional agreements. This year’s coastal security conference is proof “we are only at the start of coming to these agreements,” he said. “We have to get all the forces together because oil, pirates and fish do not respect national boundaries, whether by sea or by land.”
Piracy is a symptom of weak power on land, Christie said, according to AfricaBusiness.com. Governance on land in Somalia has improved, he said. “The capture of big ships by Somali pirates has stopped and the capture of small boats is very rare. But there are still 50-to-60 hostages that are held by Somali pirates so the problem is not completely solved.
“Security at sea is vital for the economic development of the whole world, including land-locked countries because 95 percent of world trade goes by sea,” Christie said. “The maritime industries – both the ones that make ships, boats and aerial vehicles, as well as sensors of all types – have kept ahead with amazing technologies at practical prices. Just as cell phones today are much better than those of 15 years ago, so the 21st-century machinery for dealing with crime at sea has got much better.”
The conference showed how piracy, illegal fishing, pollution and toxic waste dumping are intertwined with drug smuggling, kidnapping, human trafficking and money laundering, Christie said, but “willingness to use force and use the rule of law to combat the problem” have resulted in “massive progress on all these fronts since last year.”