On 14 July 2021, the first plenary of “The Gulf of Guinea Maritime Collaboration Forum and Shared Awareness and De-confliction” (GoG-MCF/SHADE) took place online, organised by Nigeria and the Interregional Coordination Centre (ICC). The meeting benefitted from the participation of IMO, regional and international navies, the international shipping industry, and other maritime stakeholders in the Gulf of Guinea. Following a number of interventions by speakers, three working groupswere formed to discuss emerging trends and topics. The working groups were separated into thematic areas: Cooperation at Sea (Operations), Reporting and Information Sharing, and Air De-Confliction, with each working group chaired by a regional representative and supported by a Subject Matter Expert.
This event was the inaugural meeting of the GoG-MCF/SHADE, launched by ICC Yaoundé and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), representing Nigeria. The announcement for the creation of the forum was made in April 2021 via a joint statement of the two organisation. In the announcement, both partners outlined that the “GOG-MCF/SHADE will focus on counter-piracy and armed robbery by bringing together regional, international, industry and NGO partners to advance and coordinate near term maritime activities with a view to working toward a set of common operational objectives in order to protect seafarers and ships operating off the coast of West and Central Africa.” In doing so, the GOG-MCF/SHADE could address the lack of coordination between stakeholders in the region, to improve maritime security across the Gulf of Guinea.
The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) has noted that the Gulf of Guinea remains the world’s piracy hotspot, accounting for 43% of all reported incidents in 2021. Since the start of the year, there have been 38 incidents and 40 crew kidnappings, including the murder of one crew member. Although the total number of attacks has decreased relative to the same period in 2020, attacks are reportedly increasingly violent, occurring farther from shore, and seeing larger groups of seafarers kidnapped per incident.
Collaboration between different maritime stakeholders often sparks mutual support across specialist areas, leading to improved maritime security. For instance, the YARIS platform, developed by the EU project GoGIN, provides real-time information on activities that occur at sea. On the other hand, operational capacity and means to tackle problems that may arise could be guaranteed by other partners, e.g. Nigeria that just launched the Deep Blue Project, including a C4i Centre and land, sea and air assets to comprehensively tackle maritime security threats.
This has increased the need for all stakeholders in the Gulf of Guinea to collaborate on the implementation of appropriate actions to reduce the dangers faced by seafarers. Further, countries outside the Gulf of Guinea have expressed interest in providing contributions to this area of work. A sustainable mechanism is therefore required to achieve this objective. The SHADE model has already demonstrated its ability to support the exchange of information between regional and non-regional military forces in countering Somali piracy in the Horn of Africa.
The GOG-MCF/SHADE thus has great potential and will hopefully stimulate new solutions to longstanding problems. The forum has already engaged with novel ideas such as: the embarkment of law enforcement officials from the Gulf of Guinea region on non-regional naval ships, the establishment of mechanisms to enable the handover of suspected pirates to their national jurisdiction, and the utilisation of available radar data from offshore installations. Of course, it is yet to be seen whether the GOG-MCF/SHADE can live up to its billing and avoid the pitfalls that other regional frameworks have met in the past. Only time will tell whether the forum will effectively support coordinating efforts to counter piracy within the Gulf of Guinea.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the European Union or its members.
Picture from: The Gulf of Guinea Maritime Institute