Dignitaries at the conference

The Gulf of Guinea; a major shipping route is no doubt strategic to international trade and commerce. The region also has a pivotal role in Africa’s quest towards food security, which accounts for Nigeria’s commitment to ensuring safety and security in the region.

The recently concluded Global Maritime Security Conference GMSC hosted by the Nigerian Government in Abuja under the auspices of the Federal Ministry of Transport and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency NIMASA in conjunction with the Nigerian Navy would for a long time remain one single event that changed Africa’s shipping narratives. The huge success of that event with the theme: “Managing and Securing Our Waters”, which gathered delegates from over 80 countries across the world in addition to experts from international, continental and regional maritime institutions and stakeholders, represents yet another landmark achievement in Nigeria’s efforts at ensuring safety and security not only in the Gulf of Guinea region but also across the African continent. It is also another testimony to Nigeria’s leadership role and commitment in ensuring safe shipping, which is at the core of the mandate of the International Maritime Organisation IMO. In addition to being conscious of the fact that maintaining safety and security in the Gulf of Guinea was a sine qua-non for ensuring food security in the West and Central African region, Nigeria is even more conscious that maritime insecurity has economic, social, political and environmental implications globally.

It was in line with the vision to eliminate insecurity not only in the country but also in the region that President Muhammadu Buhari recently signed the Anti-Piracy Bill into law, having been earlier enacted by the National Assembly. This legislation, which is first of its kind in Africa, is a brainchild of NIMASA in conjunction with the Federal Ministry of Transport and remains of the several initiatives by the agency to rework the nation’s maritime security architecture towards eliminating all forms of maritime crime in her territorial waters.

The President had while speaking at the conference, which held from October 7-9, 2019, however recognised the fact that Nigeria’s efforts and those of other member states of the Gulf of Guinea alone cannot rid the region of the scourge of insecurity and therefore called for collaborative global efforts. This, according to him, is given that security in the region remains vital and central to global trade since many crucial trade routes that connect the African continent to the rest of the world run through the Gulf of Guinea region.

President Muhammadu Buhari

He said: ” The convening of this timely conference here in Nigeria is an indication that we will not relent in our efforts to rid our waters of the piracy scourge. To succeed in our objective, a collective effort from all stakeholders represented here today is essential.

“I reiterate the need for a joint effort because security in the Gulf of Guinea is vital and central to global trade in view of the fact that many critical trade routes that connect the continent, run through the Gulf of Guinea region.

“Our approach therefore towards achieving maritime security in the region and other vital sea lanes is contingent on our collective efforts and ability to put in place international, continental, regional and national frameworks and resources in cooperation with critical stakeholders.

“It is expedient to highlight that the international treaties on maritime security provide robust mechanisms for cooperation among maritime nations in the fight and suppression of maritime crimes”.

As an agency that shares the overall vision of the government, the Director General of NIMASA, Dr. Dakuku Peterside also believes that protecting the Gulf of Guinea remains crucial to the quest for food security in the sub-region and therefore insists that the region must be made safe and secure in order to forestall illegal activities that may hamper food supply within the sub region and also impact global shipping business.

Minister of Transport, RT Hon. Rotimi Amaechi

While speaking at the event, Peterside observed that the Gulf of Guinea as a major shipping route must be properly guarded if the member countries are to properly harness the blue economic potential for the growth of their local economies, which underscores the need for regional cooperation.

He said: “The Gulf of Guinea, aside being a major shipping route, is also home for many aquatic species and so the member nations of the region must do everything to safeguard the region from illegal fishing, piracy and other activities that may affect the food chain”

“NIMASA knows the importance of the region to the African continent and that is the major reason the agency has continuously championed collaborations among member states in order to develop the continent’s blue economy through sustainable shipping. So it is good for member countries to better understand the blue economy and how to properly harness the inherent potential of the Africa’s maritime industry”.

With 11 thematic sessions that addressed specific security issues not only in the region but also across the African continent, experts led discussions and proffered solution options on a wide range of maritime security and development issues in the region, the conference came up with a total of 17 recommendations, which was christened the Abuja Declaration 2019, which has turned out to be a major historical milestone in the quest to enhance safety shipping assets and personnel across the globe.

Several observations were also made in the course of the conference on four major clusters of issues on a crime-free regional maritime environment, which centred around the legal and policy regulatory framework for the maritime industry, institutional framework and capacities, the material, human, financial, technological and other resources needed to enhance security in the region as well as the ways and means of implementing the necessary strategies for maritime security.

It was in the light of all these observations that the conference resolved that member states of the Gulf of Guinea and their international partners should give priority attention to training and capacity building for relevant stakeholders involved in maritime security maritime administrations, law enforcement agencies and navies as first responders. Stakeholders also recommended regular joint operations for Navies, Coast Guards and other maritime law enforcement agencies in the region and to harmonise operational procedures, training standards and foster interoperability.

The conference also proposed that member states should explore the possibility of establishing designated maritime courts to handle cases of sea robbery, piracy and other maritime offences to ensure quick dispensation of cases in addition to capacity building and sensitisation of judiciary on crucial relevant legislation. This is in addition to putting more efforts to implementing various agreed strategies at continental, regional and national levels.

One major fallout of the conference was the call on the international community and countries in the Gulf of Guinea region to put mechanisms in place to ensure that resources that are illegally harvested/explored in the region including but not limited to stolen oil and illegal unreported and unregulated fishing are globally banned as was the case with the “blood diamonds”.

Others recommendations include that member states with the support of regional organisations such as the Economic Community of West African States ECOWAS, Economic Community of Central African States, ECCAS International Chamber of Commerce ICC and relevant international organisations should continue to ratify and fully domesticate the provisions of the relevant international conventions including UNCLOS 1982, SUA and Port States Measures Agreement.

“Gulf of Guinea countries should explore alternative and innovative sources of funding for their maritime security and law enforcement agencies to enhance the effectiveness of their response to maritime incidents; they should establish repeatable, documentable frameworks for interagency cooperation.

“Member states are encouraged to strengthen mechanisms and structures for engagement with the local communities, fishing communities and seafarers including private stakeholders for economic benefits. They should strengthen, including funding, national, zonal and regional maritime domain awareness centres to enhance information sharing and coordination.

“There is need to sustain regular meeting of heads of states, heads of navies/coast guards and other maritime enforcement agencies on issues of maritime security for mutual benefit and relevant regional maritime agencies should engage industry experts/representatives for informed policy decision on maritime security and related issues”, the Abuja Declaration 2019 also said.

A high point of the event was the setting up of an expert working group, which is meet every quarter to drive the implementation and decisions arising from the conference and review these strategies as circumstances may require. This differentiates the conference from other. It is expected that the Gulf of Guinea region will soon begin to take its pride of place in the global shipping arena given its abundant natural resources and strategic geographical location.