The shipping industry and coastal countries in West Africa should increase levels of training and cooperation to prevent maritime crime from spreading in the region, says leading maritime security company GoAGT.
For the last five years, increasing instability in the Sahel and Sahara region has been a source of growing concern for the world’s governments. Western onlookers have worried that the weakness of state control in the area would allow al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb a foothold.
Nick Davis, CEO of GoAGT, said: “When there was instability of this type in East Africa, piracy began spreading rapidly in the waters off Somalia. Simply put, piracy offered a viable economic alternative. In West Africa, the persistent threat to shipping and infrastructure is widespread, costly, and dangerously underreported, and with few barriers to entry other than speedboats, weapons and desperation, it could spread to the north.”
He added: “The situation demands a coordinated response like the UKMTO and MSC-HOA for the whole of West Africa. This idea has been floated for a while, however, the multilateral naval cooperation that exists between coastal nations around the world, which has helped enormously in Somalia, seems to be far from reality off the West coast of Africa. Countries in the region don’t seem to be willing to cooperate or even agree on a structure for a reporting system, and this is essential to tackle maritime crime at source before it becomes a major problem.”
Between Western Sahara’s disputed northern border to Cape Palmas, Liberia, lies a coastline of over 4000km and an Exclusive Economic Zone that is almost 1 million km², which is around half of the total size patrolled in the Indian Ocean.
Nick said: “Sources suggest naval assets in the region suitable for the task of disrupting piracy number around 150 – that’s over 6500km² each, if they’re all fully serviceable and work together. However, these lack the necessary training and coordination and, with the high number of merchant vessels transiting cargo north to Europe, it creates an environment in which maritime crime could flourish very quickly.
He added: “The maritime industry should examine the potential for crime now rather than take the reactive stance it has taken in the past. Unified action, training of local assets and communication could defeat piracy before it becomes a threat. However, with ever-present disputes over offshore energy ownership and fishery zones a solution only seems possible after governments start seeing a sustained loss to their GDP.”