Seminar Focuses on Maritime Safety and Security in West and Central Africa

Updated: 07/25/2011

2011 ECOWAS(Click here to view photos from this event)

The Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) hosted a maritime safety and security conference July 19-21, 2011, in Garmisch, Germany, to facilitate cooperation and collaboration between the two Regional Economic Communities on key maritime safety and security issues that affect their member nations.

The goal of the conference was to develop the framework of an agreement on maritime cooperation that could be approved by senior decision makers at a follow-on, political-level conference to be held in 2012.

Opening Adress by General Carter Ham commander of U.S. Africa Command  (AFRICOM)

“The Africa maritime domain is under attack, infected by many threats and vulnerabilities,” Dr. Elham Mahmoud Ahmed Ibrahim, Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy for the African Union (AU), told conference participants.

She added that unlawful activities such as illegal fishing, drug trafficking, and the escalation of piracy are major concerns that must be addressed through strategic methods.

“(The) AU encourages regional economic communities to develop comprehensive maritime strategies with clear ends, ways and means linked together to enhance wealth creation for African people,” said Ibrahim.

The conference — co-sponsored by the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) and the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) — also aimed to forge partnerships, identify projects that support maritime security activities and strengthen collaborative strategies. More than 100 participants from 25 nations attended, including representatives from the International Maritime Organization, Maritime Organization of West and Central Africa, Gulf of Guinea Commission, U.S. Departments of State, Justice and U.S. Coast Guard.

Panel discussions examined maritime threats and the cost of inaction, as well as legal definitions and existing frameworks for international cooperation. Topics of discussion included operations pursuant to law enforcement, bilateral agreements, piracy and related disposition issues in high risk waters, African maritime law enforcement partnership fisheries seizure in West Africa, and illegal migration in the maritime domain.

“Africa’s future — its economic vitality — rests with maritime security and the ability to export and import goods…without adequate maritime security that would simply not be possible,” said General Carter Ham, U.S. AFRICOM commander, who opened the conference July 19. “Ultimately, it will be the African states who decide what the right way ahead is and it will be the African states who will be responsible for the implementation of the agreements and the memorandum of understandings that are developed here.”

Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Duarte Monteiro, commander of the Cape Verde Coast Guard, reinforced the need for strong regional communities.

“While each country has different problems, the threats remain common to us all and it is paramount that we all get together to tackle the issues and try to come up with workable solutions for individual countries and cooperate at the regional level,” said Monteiro.

Lieutenant Colonel Victorien Sinha, commander of the Benin Naval Training Center, appreciates the kind of pressure this conference has on the political will of local governments and authorities that will create the necessary awareness.

“Countries like mine do not realize what they are losing at sea by not conducting security,” said Sinha.

The working groups provided a format to begin the process of formulating a legal framework to address politics and funding. This allowed participants to walk through operational provisions, making use of dialogue and group discussions. The common goal in each of the three groups was to filter through provisional language and collectively move forward in the process.

The cooperation from conference participants served not only as a forum for African representatives from two Regional Economic Communities to identify and discuss common strategies for sustained capacity building, but also to increase national, regional and continental stability among member states.

Speech by Head of ECOWAS Regional Security Division, Lt. Col. Abdourahmane Dieng