Over the past fifteen years, numerous threats of all kinds have spread in the Gulf of Guinea (i.e. from the Cape Verde Islands and Senegal to Angola), including Piracy ( or maritime robbery), accompanied by looting and kidnapping of merchant seamen aboard ships to obtain ransoms, theft of oil, contraband and associated traffics (human beings, weapons, drugs), illegal fishing, not declared and unregulated (IUU) and numerous environmental crimes.
The impact of maritime insecurity has an extremely negative aspect on the socio-economic dimension of the countries of the region, which is expensive each year for ECOWAS countries (especially in Nigeria) and for those of ECCAS. There are repercussions on all member countries, including those which are landlocked, landlocked, such as Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger for West Africa or Chad and the Central African Republic for Central Africa, since their own goods imported or exported by sea pay significant maritime insurance supplements in addition to transfer and escort costs.
Controlling the Gulf of Guinea means preserving Africa’s security to a large extent, it’s also helping to secure the world economy. Indeed, in addition to the Strait of Gibraltar which connects all the Mediterranean countries to Africa, international maritime traffic America-Europe Europe sub-Saharan Africa Pacific-Southeast Asia-Australia passes through the Gulf of Guinea. It’s the famous Cape Town sea route. This is a decisive nodal point, a geostrategic pivot of world trade. Without counting the exports of oil, gas and Diversified and strategic mining resources (Copper, cobalt, iron, bauxite, manganese, uranium of which West Africa is rich, and without forgetting the return of refined products (It n there are not enough refineries in the region.) So in addition to the kidnappings and killings caused by piracy, the disruption of maritime traffic is detrimental to the economies of the central and western states of Africa in particular and for international maritime traffic in general.
1) Piracy, maritime robbery and hostage taking
The modern definition of this former criminality incorporates very subtle notions (which may seem ambiguous) those enacted by the United Nations Convention of Montego Bay on December 10, 1982, fixing the maximum delimitation of territorial waters at 12 nautical miles from the coast. Outside this territorial sea, we are on the high seas (Even if the state does indeed have 200 nautical miles of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)).
Thus we speak of piracy in international waters when the same acts committed in territorial waters constitute only an offense called maritime robbery. We arrive at the following two definitions of the same act: Piracy = act of violence committed for private purposes, on the high seas (outside territorial waters) Maritime robbery: illegal act, committed for private purposes against a ship, or against persons or goods on board, in internal waters, archipelagic waters or the territorial sea of a State. Acts committed in the territorial waters of a state cannot be classified as piracy, since they occur in an area under the sovereignty of a state, which alone has the power to suppress them.
What exactly is happening in the Gulf of Guinea?
The pirates intervene at sea by planned attacks because they have enriched themselves over all these years and now have good operational logistics. From their own financial means and the weapons acquired by these means, pirates not only pose a real threat to the security of coastal states, but they are linked to traffickers of drugs, weapons and people, not to mention their links to corrupt officials. Here is an example, of the level that this corruption can reach, it speaks for itself: from 2003 to 2008, eight of the nine governors of the Nigerian states of the Niger Delta region, were arrested for this lamentable practice.
In their quest for illicit enrichment, pirates in the Gulf of Guinea systematically rely on other sources of violence inside the Delta. Their activities develop and are redirected ashore because they make a lot of profits with ransoms and money laundering. They are well equipped using fast boats, therefore well motorized and satellite phones. They are linked by HF and VHF, have correspondents abroad and pay maritime specialists to target the ships they are going to attack. The pirates of the beginning, “poor buggers” of the polluted Delta, gave way to gangs of highly organized criminals.
Their modes of action both on land and offshore in international waters provide for systematic attacks on all ships in isolated navigation, using commando tactics.
Attacks by surprise at night or at dawn, use of mother ships where their fast boats are hiding, control of high-speed collisions and in addition they have in-depth maritime knowledge. They know how to take over an oil tanker, move it and empty its cargo, which is transhipped to colluding tankers and sold abroad. They always manage to join the Delta at the end of their missions with multiple attacks and will know how to hide their hostages in the mangrove, it is currently their way to make a lot of money.
In 2019, more than 80% of crew abductions worldwide took place off the Gulf of Guinea. A situation that keeps getting worse. The Gulf of Guinea recorded 111 events related to piracy and robbery in 2019 which is far too much. Last year, 146 kidnappings of seafarers were counted by experts, twice as many as three years ago. The average length of detention is also increasing, it is now 33 days. Because it probably takes time to negotiate the ransoms. Pirate attacks are always very dangerous, since they attack merchant ships with fast boats of up to 45 knots. They are armed with submachine guns, or even rocket launchers, and can practice stabbing if necessary.
They have large aluminum ladders (10 meters) with which they dock with the target boat and climb the hull. Any sailor seen on board becomes a prisoner, any sailor trying to flee may be shot. All the sailors who are not surprised can take refuge in the citadel, an armored space arranged in the bridge. There are deaths in these attacks. Here are some recent examples. In November 2019, a Greek oil tanker, the “Elka Aristotle”, was attacked while at anchor off the coast of Lomé, the Togolese capital. Four sailors were kidnapped. Three of them were finally released in mid-December, but the fourth died during his captivity. In December 2019, pirates boarded the oil works ship Ambika while it was docked on a trunk off the Niger Delta. Two Russian sailors and an Indian sailor, members of the crew, were kidnapped, a team of the Nigerian navy tried to recover them, the assault resulted in the death of four of these Nigerian soldiers.
While ten ships have been fired on throughout 2019, four have already experienced the same fate this year 2020, in just three months and no wonder, in Nigeria’s exclusive economic zone.
2) Theft of oil
Theft of oil is also an essentially Nigerian activity. There are 10,000 kilometers of small pipelines in the Niger Delta. A team pierces one, collects the oil in a Cotonou boat, a large canoe of fifteen to twenty meters, transports its contents in the innumerable arms of the Delta to a clandestine refinery, installed in the mangrove. Once refined, this oil is sold in the region or in neighbouring countries where it is injected into the networks of refined Nigerian oil, which is in any case sold at a lower price in Nigeria’s petrol stations. markets of neighbouring states (Benin, Togo, Cameroon (It is called Kpayo in Benin, Zouazoua in Cameroon) etc … So, stolen it brings in a lot more. The networks are sprawling and well organized.
The benefits are immense and reach several billion Euros per year. This clandestinity is detrimental to the proper functioning of civil society, it harms the budget of coastal states and involves many corrupt agents (including customs officials). In border crossings, smugglers do not hesitate to kill if they are disturbed. Several customs officials paid the price. In the Savé sector, on the border between Nigeria and Benin, a customs officer was killed in his car when the author was staying in the country. Since then, a border post has been installed in the sector and the author has been invited by the Beninese Minister of Finance to its inauguration.
3) Drug trafficking
Africa is the continent most affected by the global illicit drug trade. He’s a real El Dorado for the Mafia gangs.
Anarchy, porous borders, institutionalized corruption and abundant natural resources have all provided favorable conditions for the involvement of various organized crime cartels: Italian mafia groups (‘ndrangheta, Cosa Nostra, Camorra) coexist with the groups Nigerian mafioai: (Nigerian Brotherhood Black Ax, Nigerian Yahoo Boys) and even with the Mexican group “Cartel of Sinaloa”
Regarding the main traffic, many of you know the circuits:
cocaine arrives from South America, aboard mother ships, which cross the Atlantic to tranship their cargoes on board small ships that bring drugs ashore. Either it enters containers landed in major ports in the region. Currently. There are no constant fraud routes. Several valves open regularly on the West African coast. Cargoes disembark, are reported, can be re-transported in containers, but given the success of seizures by African and European customs officials, this mode of transport is only used from time to time.
Currently and this for a good ten years, coke constantly rallies the countries of the Sahel, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad to reach Libya then Egypt and Israel or the Balkan route or directly Europe via the Maghreb . It is routed as soon as it arrives in the Sahel, with the complicity of Tuareg terrorists, who take their “rights” in passing because drugs are the most important source of funding for terrorism. New actors from the rebellions have been able to bring to traffickers the military know-how they needed.
If the chains are often held by traders, the actors who ensure the transport and the securing of convoys have the profile of combatants. In northern Mali, traffickers must protect their cargo from interception by rival gangs. Endowed with significant financial means, they rely on escort services generally using pick-ups equipped with heavy machine guns (often of caliber 12.7 mm or 14.5 mm).
This is why terrorism does not stop, since weapons are so easy to buy and marriages of convenience so often. Terrorists, smugglers, traffickers, thieves, fraudsters, and corrupt officials, no one wants to miss out on juicy stuff and everyone ends up getting along and joining forces. Without counting on the Cannabis produced in the North of Ghana and in Nigeria and the modern so-called synthetic drugs which are now of African manufacture. By 2050, Africa will likely be the second largest drug user in the world, as drug flows leave it behind. More and more.
4) traffic in children
Trafficking in children in the region stems from developmental inequalities. It is closely linked to a large number of economic and social difficulties, which it only reflects. The recruitment, transportation, transfer, accommodation or reception of a child for the purpose of exploitation is considered to be ‘human trafficking. Let us never forget the terrifying conditions in which thousands of children live in slavery, deprived of their most basic rights: respect for their human dignity, ‘Even if it is a problem of border police our association AIDF should launch a reflection among its members on such lamentable actions.
Many children come from Mali and Burkina Faso for Côte d’Ivoire. At sea, these children make a journey from West to East and often arrive in Gabon with other illegal migrants, most often in a Cotonou boat type canoe from the shores of Benin, or Nigeria. A six-year-old girl revealed when she was released in Gabon in 2018 that six people died during her crossing from Benin to Gabon.
5) IUU fishing (Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing)
West African IUU fishing networks are known to have the highest rate of IUU fishing in the world, accounting for around 37 percent of the catch at the regional level. This illegal fishing is characterized, among other things, by activities such as fishing without authorization, the use of prohibited gear and / or techniques, unauthorized, unreported catches, fishing in prohibited areas or during the prohibited season. , excessive and / or prohibited bycatch.
This fishery is transferred on board refrigerated vessels by transhipment. These refrigerated freighters can transport fishing to destinations in Europe, the United States or Asia.
This is why illegal transhipment on a refrigerated vessel is also considered illegal fishing. Corruption is therefore an important aspect of illegal fishing in West Africa
Because of its effects on public confidence and the loss of tax revenue it causes, it probably has more repercussions outside the fishing industry than any other criminal activity. Customs fraud is of course an element of illegal fishing since it not only entails You know that, customs regulations require that the country of origin and the subheading be declared precisely in the customs nomenclature.
These two elements are essential for determining the tariff and the import-export regimes applicable and the methods of application of regulations relating to food hygiene. It is also compulsory to give precise information on the identity of the exporter and the importer and on the value of the goods. This allows governments to determine which agencies may need to examine or inspect the cargo to ensure compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.
There are still a lot of environmental offenses in the Gulf of Guinea.
Remember the story of the bulk carrier Probo Koala, an environmental disaster that occurred in the port of Abidjan in August 2006. This multi-purpose bulk carrier ship unloaded 581 tonnes of waste from the cleaning of the boat (a mixture of petroleum, hydrogen, phenols, caustic soda and organic sulfur compounds). The latter, spread ashore in the dumping area, caused lethal gas fumes resulting in the death of 17 people and 43,492 confirmed cases of poisoning plus 24,825 probable cases.
6) Arms Trafficking
That Iranian or Turkish weapons are seized in Lagos does not necessarily indicate regular arms trafficking, that weapons are stolen from the arsenals of the Malian, Nigerian or Nigerian army, it necessarily provides people with weapons and ammunition Boko Haram or associated groups, it is true, but the author, who was an expert in arms smuggling, promised never to speak with regard to the old or current networks. He can simply talk about the price of a weapon in the Sahel, a Kalashnikov submachine gun costs less than 200 euros, it is a bit the same price as in Nigeria. Weapons are not expensive where there are many … This is why wars break out.
7) The ECOWAS maritime strategy
You have therefore understood how illicit activities are present on a daily basis in the Gulf of Guinea. It is time to put them in order. The 2013 Code of Conduct is a comprehensive regional maritime security agreement that was adopted in Yaoundé (Cameroon) in June 2013 by the Heads of State and Government, or their respective representatives, from 25 African countries. West and Center who came together and wanted regional cooperation defined within an integrated maritime strategy. That of ECOWAS includes more than 50 priority actions relating to maritime security and to the process of the Yaoundé code of conduct. It was necessary to create the bases necessary for the fight against transnational organized crime. However, these measures have not yet been made fully operational.
8) The European Union Maritime Safety Strategy for Africa
To assist Africa, Europe has organized several preparatory missions to the fight against piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. Serge Rinkel was thus able to take part in the first mission in 2010, a mission which took him to all the coastal states of Central and West Africa. Following this type of mission, a European strategy was written in turn in 2014 and its first action plan for the Gulf of Guinea was developed from 2014 to 2020. This plan focuses on the integrated approach which links Governance, Security and Development. This concept aimed to give strength to the African leadership of the ECOWAS Integrated Maritime Strategy (EIMS), by executing the application provided for by the Yaoundé code of conduct. Among its objectives, the European strategy provided for a number of actions aimed at ensuring freedom of navigation, by improving maritime safety, which includes actions against piracy while ensuring consistency between the various organizations responsible for the maritime sector of the transport or fighting against illegal fishing and other traffics.
SWAIMS: “Support to Integrated Maritime Security in West Africa”
The European Commission has set up several projects including SWAIMS launched from 2019 to 2023 for the benefit only of the Community of West African States, up to 29 million Euros. (For Central Africa an equivalent project called PASSMAR has just returned to service in 2020)
Since January 2019, the SWAIMS technical assistance team has settled in Abuja within ECOWAS and in Abidjan, within CRESMAO. Serge Rinkel, former French customs officer, performs the project’s functions, the specific objectives of which are at the same time improving maritime safety and security, improving justice in the maritime environment, developing the capacities of the public force which must provide appropriate responses to threats of all kinds. He reports directly to the ECOWAS regional security division headed by Colonel Dieng, within the Political Affairs, Peace and Security department under the responsibility of Commissioner Béhanzin (former Beninese general)
SWAIMS is a big program which mobilizes different partners:
1) The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC Dakar and Abuja) to improve the training of prosecutors, magistrates and senior law enforcement officials.
2) The Intergovernmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA) must conduct special investigations into the clandestine maritime circuits of dirty money (ransom money and looting, theft of oil and theft from illegal fishing).
3) INTERBOL I24 / 7 and WAPIS (New File for West African Police Services) are expected to launch new files on the various criminal networks in the Niger Delta.
4) The Maritime Universities of Abidjan (ARSTM-ISMI) and Accra (RMU) must teach safety to maritime stakeholders and those of the police force (which includes customs).
5) The Portuguese institute CAMOES must deliver to ECOWAS countries thirty rigid speed tires, high speed, which are supposed to allow the police officers to collect all evidence at the crime scenes and finally be able to criminalize acts of piracy. Many of the arrested hackers were released for lack of evidence or because of a procedural invalidity. This will soon no longer be possible.
SWAIMS experts, on the other hand, specifically study at the regional level the most suitable conditions for strengthening governance, policies, laws and systems relating to national integrated maritime security.
national and regional. They are responsible for coordinating all the activities of the partners, for facilitating them and for reporting regularly on all project components to the ECOWAS Commission and the European Commission in order to respect the main priorities and to be able to avoid any possible overlap with other EU-funded projects.
Stakeholder analysis and awareness help to inform all levels of civil society. Such support improves maritime governance and thus makes it possible to develop tailor-made legislation. The integrated ECOWAS maritime strategy is thereby strengthened.
SWAIMS daily work with CRESMAO
Abidjan and the Multinational Maritime Coordination Centers of ECOWAS (CMMC)
SWAIMS is responsible for administrative support, project work, as well as monitoring activities, recording and consolidating reports from all partners. To better assist ECOWAS in implementing its maritime security strategy, the SWAIMS project seconded a liaison officer to the headquarters of the Regional Maritime Center of West Africa (CRESMAO) in Abidjan. The project can thus support the CMMC regional control centers in the three ECOWAS maritime zones (zone E in Cotonou, F in Accra and G in Praia (Cape Verde)). In cooperation with these operational centers, the private sector and civil society organizations, SWAIMS supports CRESMAO in monitoring vessels operating in the Gulf of Guinea by technically ensuring the dissemination of daily Maritime Safety bulletins and alert bulletins on maritime security and safety incidents. Significant assistance to maritime actors and ship crews, petroleum industry employees, law enforcement officials and port personnel.
With the private sector: a new type of relationship is emerging. The various shipping and oil companies are the main victims of serious crime in the region. They also deplore the endemic corruption in force in the Niger Delta and in other maritime sectors. SWAIMS is in the process of associating the goodwill of this private sector, in order to launch joint actions, regular meetings and by organizing the secondment of a representative of these companies to CRESMAO. An association is being created, Maritime Security Alliance for the Gulf of Guinea. We must all repel the pirates.
What does a vice-president of our association do in Abuja?
Serge Rinkel is a former French Customs naval officer, former Coast Guard speedboat commander. He worked as an observer of the Serbia and Montenegro embargo on the Danube in Ukraine (1994), drug trafficking expert of the WCO and UNODC in East and South Africa (1997 to 2007), Customs and Borders Adviser to the United Nations Security Council: Arms embargo in the DRC and neighboring states (2007-2008), then expert in arms trafficking in Africa (French Ministry of Defense). Finally he followed cross-border traffic in the Sahel for the EU and ECOWAS and took care of the training of executives of the public force at the borders for the G5 Sahel and intermittently, was involved in various European projects to fight against maritime piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.
He was appointed project manager of SWAIMS in January 2019 and works at ECOWAS in Abuja (Nigeria). He is assisted by two assistants, an Ivorian, former chief administrator of Maritime Affairs, Mr. Barthélémy Blédé posted to Abidjan to deal with links with the private sector and civil society while a European specialist in project coordination , Mr. Axel Klein, German, will also join Abuja, to replace an Italian expert. The project also has a secretariat and the assistance of temporary experts in the status of consultants.
And what about customs officials?
Customs officers in the coastal countries of the Gulf of Guinea perform few maritime surveillance functions. However, this is the case in Senegal, which has a maritime surveillance service assisted by the navy. This is also the case in Nigeria or perhaps some of you may remember nine Nigerian customs sailors shot dead at sea in a fight against pirates. Today two new patrol officers from this administration have been in service since September 9, 2019, one of them is called the “Group of Nine” in memory of the officers’ sacrifice. Crime must be pushed back from territorial waters, we must not give up!
It is therefore absolutely necessary to go further. The priority given to the collection of customs duties has always relegated surveillance missions to the second rank of concerns. The establishment of specialized and well-equipped intervention units has often proven to be an overly complex and costly modernization effort. We sometimes make this effort and unfortunately the operating credits do not follow and we must, one day, stop everything. However, it is a matter of choice. ; The improvements to come in the Gulf of Guinea, the achievement of the objectives of the ECOWAS Integrated Maritime Strategy, the work to fight organized crime, because that is what it is all about, nothing can be achieved without customs which constitute the cornerstone of the permanent system to be created and maintained in place.
Sea administrations must all be integrated into the mechanism of state action at sea, no one can stay on the quays. We must all be present and positive. It’s the future of your country and region that you are playing. It’s a question of motivation. Customs officers on the shores of the Gulf of Guinea must remember that the maritime radius of customs must be monitored and not only with a subdivision or a maritime brigade or by the navy but with the assistance of customs officers with the creation of maritime intelligence units everywhere . Because everywhere, the coast of the Gulf of Guinea is prey to all these evils that we have just seen together.
Customs has very important sources of information. They know the border trade circuits, the local transit and transport companies. They know the shipping agents, the forwarders, the pilots, the moorers, the dockers, the port officers, the financial circuits. The customs officers intervene in the control of the ships at quay, their perfect knowledge of the movements of the freight make them very informed agents who should, in the next years, improve their relations with the multinational maritime coordination centers of ECOWAS (Some customs agents are already affected) as with the Navy, Maritime Affairs, and all law enforcement agencies.
This is not the first time that customs officials have dealt with the waves, even in landlocked countries they are present on the rivers!
In any case, SWAIMS will soon launch a new program with the customs services. You will find out more in a future article.
By Serge Rinkel, AIDF vice-president, and ECOWAS SWAIMS project manager
Article and images courtesy of Le Douanier Francophone