Kathy Gibson reports from the Maritime and Coastal Security conference in Cape Town – While the Gulf of Aden and Somalia are often in the news for piracy activities, there is a new and growing piracy hotspot on the other side of Africa, in the Gulf of Guinea.

Rear admiral Emmanuel Ogbor, chief of policy and plans of the Nigerian Navy, says that piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has grown rapidly and countries in the region need to forge a concerted effort to stem it, in much the same way as the international community has mobilised to clear the scourge from the coast of Somalia.

The root causes of the west coast piracy are different from those on the east coast, Ogbor adds. In the gulf of Aden, failed states have led to piracy as an economic activity; in the Gulf of Guinea it can be attributed to  weak or bad governance, precarious legal frameworks and poor law enforcement.

However, the main driver is a thriving regional black market for oil, which has spawned a large range or criminal activity including piracy. In addition, he says, the piracy activity has brought illegal oil buyers and arms traders into the Gulf of Guinea, making the region even more dangerous.

The situation, Ogbor says, exposes a need for an effective and efficient piracy strategy.

He says Nigeria has already put some foundational anti-piracy measures in place that include the groundwork needed to develop maritime domain awareness and intelligence sharing, response initiatives and effective law enforcement.

The Nigerian navy’s maritime awareness initiatives include the installation of radar surveillance systems, automatic identification systems and ground-based radar.

In addition, it has adopted a collaborative approach to intelligence and information sharing, hosting of the first Gulf of Guinea regional maritime awareness capability conference, and enhancing response capability. It is hoped this will assist in the reporting and sharing of information, Ogbor says.

However, ongoing efforts to curb piracy include efforts to increase ships for a sustain presence at sea. To this end the Nigerian navy is acquiring ships, including offshore patrol vessels, and setting up local shipbuilding programmes.

As part of the ECOWAS agreement, Nigeria and the Republic of Benin have agreed on bilateral co-operation which will include combined patrols. In addition, the four member states of Zone E – Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Niger – have agreed to set up a multinational headquarters to facilitate the sharing of information and intelligence.

What is needed is the political will for the continent to work together to combat piracy, Ogbor adds.

“We need to address the security challenges confronting Africa, particularly piracy and sea robbery,” he says. The associated plan of action recognises an integrated African maritime security structure driven by regional strategies.

There are still some questions, Ogbor adds. For example will African governments demonstrate the necessary political will? How will the provisions o the 2050 AIM strategy be translated to effective security? Will they positively drive the need for integrated surveillance, response and law enforcement/ And how will contentious issues like sovereign rights and limits of pursuit be handled?

Some of the technical challenges that lie ahead include surveillance, which suffers from poor information sharing and the lack of a comprehensive strategy to gather timely intelligence.

Response initiatives are another challenge, with a lack of capacity, training or equipment. And law enforcement, where there is no competent court in west Africa and varying legal frameworks and procedures between countries, is yet another.

These challenges are not insurmountable, Ogbor says, and can be addressed by the quick emplacement of a robust response activity, with strengthened capacity of nations and coastguards; and an effective legal regime over the high seas of west Africa.