Building safe seas in the Gulf of Guinea

Professor Edmunds delivering his lead speech at the Global Maritime Security Conference, Nigeria

On 7-9 October 2019, SafeSeas co-director Tim Edmunds was a lead speaker at the Global Maritime Security Conference in Abuja Nigeria. The high-level conference was organised by the Federal Ministry of Transportation, Nigeria, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the Nigerian Navy. It brought together 2300 delegates from 76 countries to consider maritime security challenges in the Gulf of Guinea region. Professor Edmunds was lead speaker for the thematic session on the Future of Maritime Security.

His remarks set out the main contours of the maritime security challenge, arguing that these issues are of critical importance to coastal states in the Gulf of Guinea, and to the global economy and environment more widely. However, maritime insecurities are complex and multifaceted. They entail issues of national security, economic development, environmental protection and human security. They are also interdependent in the sense that problems in one area may lead to or exacerbate problems in others. They are transnational in that they are shared between states. They are problems of the land as well as of the sea, and present significant jurisdictional complexity, between states, between the range of institutions implicated in addressing them, and between public and private sectors.

The role of international actors in addressing these issues in the Gulf of Guinea is complex and contested and best practices are not always easily transferable from other regions. Indeed, effective responses to maritime insecurities in the Gulf of Guinea most likely lie close to home and draw on regional states’ own maritime security capabilities. In this context, the most effective and realistic role for international actors in the short to medium terms is helping to assist local states in developing their maritime security institutions such as coastguards and marine police, but also in relation to facilitating capacities such as court systems, maritime domain awareness mechanisms and coordination bodies and practices. International actors also have a role to play in policing and regulation at home, particularly with regard to industrial illegal fishing activities.

Professor Edmunds concluded with four observations on longer term responses to maritime insecurities in the Gulf of Guinea. The first is to pay attention to the underlying causes that lead people to engage in maritime crime, in particular issues of economic exclusion and deprivation on land. Second, to pay attention the interconnections between issues: maritime security is about more than just piracy. Third, to suggest approaching maritime security as a problem of land-based organised crime as much as violence at sea; and to focus on the kingpins of such crimes as well as their foot soldiers. And finally, to tailor key longer term capacity building objectives on this basis, including criminal intelligence and investigative capacities on land.

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