Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the European Union (EU) have committed €155 million (about $173 million) to address issues associated with maritime insecurity and related clandestine networks of dirty money in West Africa.
The ECOWAS Commission targets the insecurity situation in the Gulf of Guinea, which it said had adverse effect on the health and economic indices of ECOWAS member states.
The Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security of the commission, Gen. Francis Behanzin, explained that the situation necessitated an information and coordination synergy of maritime security projects.
Specifically, the commission’s operational agencies such as the EU-funded Support to West African Integrated Maritime Security (SWAIMS) and the Improved Regional Fisheries Governance in West Africa (PESCAO), along with the Dakar-based Inter-Governmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA), have sought to fight Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, goods trafficking, among others, in the Gulf of Guinea.
PESCAO and SWAIMS, who jointly presented at the meeting the relevance and benefits of regional cooperation on maritime security, fall under the ECOWAS Directorate of Agriculture and Rural Development and ECOWAS Directorate of Peace Keeping and Regional Security.
ECOWAS loses an average of $2 billion annually to theft of maritime resources and illegal fishing. In 2018 alone, 201 incidents of maritime piracy and armed robbery were reported. Also, in the same year, the gulf accounted for all six hijackings, 13 of the 18 ships fired upon, 130 of the 141 hostages held and 78 of the 82 seafarers kidnapped for ransom worldwide.
Gulf of Guinea is also notorious for illicit oil bunkering, illegal trafficking and smuggling, maritime pollution, money laundering and IUU fishing.
To curb these crimes, ECOWAS identified intelligence sharing and information exchange as critically important.
EU noted that the region was the most dangerous in 2018 for piracy and robbery at sea, which not only jeopardised critical maritime route for business, but also affects human security, governance and environment.
The Head of the Cooperation of the EU Delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Kurt Cornelis, said: “The Gulf of Guinea in recent times has been one of the most dangerous in terms of maritime security. The number of kidnapping and robbery at sea is more than any other part of Africa, and even the world.
“While there are several EU-supported programmes committed to maritime security, the biggest right now is the SWAIMS. The EU has about €155 million committed to fight against maritime insecurity, which encompasses illegal trafficking of goods, illegal fisheries and other aspects such as policing, information sharing in the Gulf of Guinea.