An industry-based approach to maritime security in West Africa by HC121001075612


									PMSO Special Report: An industry-based approach to maritime
security in West Africa
N.R. Jenzen-Jones

The sharp rise in piracy in West Africa, particularly in the Gulf of Guinea, has featured prominently in
recent news. Piracy as a whole is costing global trade an estimated $12 billion (USD) a year, with the
primary target being the oil industry1 – a key sector of the West African economy. Many foreign
nations, in particular the United States have acknowledged significant strategic interests in West
Africa2. In fact, some observers have argued that US strategic interests lie predominantly in West
Africa, rather than East Africa3. The EU has acknowledged its important maritime relationship with
the region45, and China has also engaged the region, looking to stave off incidents of piracy6.

There are other issues, along with piracy, that are prevalent in the Gulf of Guinea. Illegal,
Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing in the waters of West Africa has been referred to as the
‘worst in the world’, with London-based MRAG Limited estimating illegal catches to be 40% higher
than reported legal catches7. Sub-Saharan Africa is estimated to lose approximately $1 billion dollars
each year to IUU fishing8. The smuggling of people, arms, and narcotics is also a significant issue in
the West African maritime domain. West African countries have emerged as transhipment points for
cocaine exported from South America9 and heroin exported from Afghanistan, due to their proximity
to Southern Europe. In 2009, and estimated 20 – 40 tons of cocaine, and an estimated 40 – 45 tons
of heroin were trafficked through Africa as a whole10. Illicit shipments of small arms are also a
significant problem in the Gulf of Guinea. The Geneva-based Small Arms Survey reports that
“Shipments from suppliers from outside the region continue to take place despite the 1998 ECOWAS
[Economic Community Of West African States] Moratorium and various UN embargoes on specific
countries and regions”11. Arms trafficking between states, particularly in the Niger Delta and
adjacent regions, is also of particular concern12. On top of these issues, a plethora of local and
transnational criminal and terrorist organisations are connected either directly or tangentially to
piracy in West Africa. Chief amongst them are Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM),
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Hamas, Hezbollah, Boko Haram, and the

Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND)1314.

The Atlantic Council’s November 2010 report on ‘Security and Stability in the West African Maritime
Domain’ highlights the role maritime security issues play in determining the region’s overall level of
stability; “Central to West Africa’s high levels of insecurity and instability is the criminal exploitation
of its expansive, largely ungoverned maritime domain.” In particular, the security of the West African
maritime domain is key in ensuring:

        The unimpeded flow of oil from the Gulf of Guinea and the security of energy related
         infrastructure and assets;
        The safe and efficient flow of vessels, cargo, and people bound to or from foreign ports;
        The absence of a safehaven for transnational terrorist and criminal organisations;
        Political development, sustainable economic growth, and enduring stability in the region as a
         deterrent to state failure, humanitarian crisis, human rights abuses, and violent extremism15.

The convergence of so many security threats within West Africa, and particularly in the maritime
realm, requires a multi-faceted, long-term approach. To counter these threats, capacity building
operations conducted by private security companies could provide a robust, enduring solution. Such
operations would complement, rather than compete with, existing strategies implemented by local
governments, foreign governments, and private industry.

Piracy in West Africa has been on the rise since mid-2009, and has spiked sharply over the course of
this year1617. The UN Security Council has recently voiced its concern over the increase, noting an
intention to deploy a United Nations assessment team to the region to “examine the situation and
explore possible options for United Nations support”18. Some analysts have pointed to the widely-
publicised success of Somali pirates, and suggested this has directly influenced pirates in the Gulf of
Guinea19. However, reports have indicated that attacks in West African waters have also tended to
be more violent than those off the Horn of Africa20, and that many robberies21 likely go unreported
due to the high frequency of illegal oil bunkering in the Niger Delta22. The recent increase in
frequency and severity of attacks has prompted the Lloyd’s Market Association Joint War Committee
to raise the threat level of Nigeria, Benin, and neighbouring waters to the same category as the
waters off the Horn of Africa23.

Increased counter-piracy cooperation between the Nigerian and Beninois navies, since August , has
driven many pirates to more permissive waters. Attacks have been launched off the coasts of Togo,
Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire, Gabon and, to a lesser extent, Ghana and Cameroon24. These nations have
limited maritime security capabilities, and depend largely on foreign material assistance and
technical support252627.Equatorial Guinea maintains a more robust force, with occasional assistance
from foreign powers such as the US28 and Israel29, as commensurate with its strategic imperative to
defend the hydrocarbon-rich Corsico Bay. Attacks off of Benin’s short (121km) coastline are still
common, despite the combined patrols, and it seems likely that many such attacks are being
mounted from anchorages within the small neighbouring state of Togo30. It is worth noting,
however, that some recent attacks in these waters have been successfully deterred by the Togolese

Concerns of inter-service rivalry have hampered the Nigerian patrol effort, with Capt. D.O. Labinjo,
who represents a Nigerian ship owners' association, claiming that "Instead of interagency
cooperation, what we have been getting is interagency rivalry”. The Nigerian navy, despite its
apparent vim and vigour, has had its share of concerns33. Such patrols are also made more difficult
by the relative proximity of maritime borders, and the pirates’ ability to flee into the waters of
neighbouring countries with less capable maritime security forces. Additionally, pirates appear to be
adopting a similar strategy to one seen in Somalia, and attacking vessels further offshore34. Finally,
some analysts have pointed to corruption within Nigeria as a key enabler in the continued success of
pirate groups, with most pirates operating in the Gulf of Guinea believed to be Nigerian nationals35.
Bergen Risk Solutions, based in Norway, reports: “Our investigations indicate that the organised
group responsible is based in Nigeria and has high-level patronage in that country”36. Piracy in the
region is certainly adaptive, and current countermeasures have not seen widespread success.

The US Navy and US Coast Guard have conducted several capacity building programs throughout
Africa, including number in West African nations. The African Partnership Station (APS) has
conducted operations and events aimed at building host nation capacity in maritime security and
safety since 200737. A House report accompanying the 2010 Defense Appropriations Bill expressed
support for “more robust deployment of APS” and recommended an additional $20.5 million USD be
allocated to support maritime security capacity building in AFRICOM’s Area of Responsibility (AOR)38.

   House Rpt. 111-230, accompanying H.R. 3326, the Department of Defense Appropriations Bill, 2010
US allies such as the UK, Spain, France, Italy, and Belgium, as well as others, have also contributed to
the APS program. Another Department of Defense program, the Gulf of Guinea Guard Initiative, was
launched in 2005. This 10-year program focuses on using asset donation, training, and coordination
to enable Gulf of Guinea nations to protect the region’s natural resources. Approximately $54
million worth of assets have been donated to date. The US Coast Guard administers the African
Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership (AMLEP), aimed at developing host nation capacity to
conduct Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure (VBSS) type operations, through tactical training and skills

On the other side of the continent, naval forces from around the globe have been deployed to the
Gulf of Aden / Horn of Africa region to deter pirates, and protect international shipping from attacks.
Whilst there have been admirable results from these programs, there are also some notable
shortcomings. Chief amongst these, deploying warships to a piracy-troubled region focuses a
disproportionately large number of personnel and materiel in one location, relative to the unknown
and multitudinous positions of potential pirates. With the number of merchant ships requiring
protection vastly outstripping the assets deployed in the theatre, there exists a simple problem –
such warships cannot be everywhere they are required at once. Against an asymmetric threat such
as piracy, deploying warships in large numbers is simply not cost effective. For example, the cost of
the US counter-piracy operation, represented predominantly by the presence of US Navy assets in
Combined Task Force 151 and in NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield, is approximately $64 million per
year40. Then there are the expenses of other NATO countries, the EU, China, India, and other nations
involved to consider. Such expenditure seems excessive for the results achieved.

The role that private security companies can play in protecting ships at sea has been well-
documented41, and the very high success rate of such is widely known. The value of well-trained,
appropriately employed armed contractors cannot be understated; such guard forces are now
provided by a number of companies, and can provide a significant deterrent and defence capability
to ships’ Masters. Moreover, such an embarked guard force can provide a high level of protection,
available at all times, for a reasonable economic outlay. Armed guards do occasionally run into
trouble, however42. More importantly, as has been widely noted, piracy is a problem that starts

One model that has shown a promising cost-benefit ratio is capacity building operations. An example
of such is Triton International Ltd’s training of the Somaliland Coastguard. Since 2009, Triton has
been involved with developing and implementing both training and operation plans for the
Coastguard, providing the region of 3.5 million people with a broad spectrum maritime capability,
unique within Somalia. To this end, Triton developed a 12-week basic training course for the
Coastguard, as well as specialised modules on tactical maritime operations, maritime law, and vessel

   Various authors, JIPO, Volume 6, Number 2: Maritime Security, pp8-16
maintenance43. Based out of the ISPS Code-compliant port of Berbera, the Somaliland Coastguard
has delivered significant security progress with limited funding and materiel. The Coastguard
operate small, fast patrol boats equipped with deck-mounted 14.5mm KPV heavy machine guns.

There have been several measures of success. First, in 2010 alone, the Triton-trained Somaliland
Coastguard captured, prosecuted, and jailed more than 120 pirates. Whilst neighbouring Puntland
and Galmudug are both renowned pirate havens, with the pirate strongholds of Eyl, and Harardhere
& Hobyo, respectively, officials in Somaliland have said that pirates rarely operate in their waters,
due to the Coastguard’s reputation for intercepting them44. As a result of their efforts, the World
Food Program considers Berbera a safe port for the delivery and distribution of food aid destined for
Ethiopia, Somaliland, neighbouring Puntland, and other parts of Somalia. The Coastguard have also
intercepted vessels intending to conduct IUU fishing45.

The Triton model is cost-effective and efficient, serving as a good example of an ‘expandable
platform’ for building a counter-piracy capacity. That is, the Somaliland Coastguard model, if
extrapolated to assist some of the smaller, under-patrolled nations in the Gulf of Guinea, could
provide these states with the capability to begin countering maritime threats in the region. Many of
these smaller nations in need of maritime security assistance have short coastlines, and would
require only minimal investment to establish a relatively effective patrol force. For example, Togo’s
coastline is a mere 56km long, Benin’s 121km, and Liberia’s 579km46. By comparison, Somaliland has
a 740km coastline47. Capacity building programs can also gain access to areas – namely the littoral
and coastal zones – where foreign defence assets may not otherwise be welcome. By partnering
with the host nations or communities in areas of concern, the international community is able to
increase its awareness of the threats at hand, and to determine how best to respond to these.
Funding sources for such a program could be diverse, ranging from local governments or foreign
governments, to shipping companies, international bodies, NGOs, or cultural diasporas.

In reference to Triton’s Somaliland work, the Security Association for the Maritime Industry (SAMI)
have stated they will “continue to back this type of constructive initiative”, and have made a formal
recommendation that the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) support such capacity
building programs in order to combat the threat of piracy. Triton’s CEO, Simon Jones, has referred to
the Somaliland program as a “an initial and expandable platform for good” and notes that “If a
strong Coastguard can reduce Piracy, it can also encourage and establish an environment where
Domestic and Artesian Fishing and other maritime trade and industries can be developed due to the
Coastguards establishment of a safe and secure ‘Risk Reduced’ environment that NGO’s, charities
and UN entities can safely invest their funds into the population and humanitarian projects”48.

Private industry is in a unique position to be able to deliver such programs at a reasonable cost, and
without placing further demand on the already-strained naval assets of many nations with strategic

interests in West Africa, particularly the US. Such capacity building models have distinct national
security benefits for foreign powers; the deployment of navel assets required to keep vessels and
key infrastructure secure is expensive and inefficient in many scenarios. Capacity building models
allow for the development of increased maritime security capabilities that are essential to protecting
not only local, but foreign interests. This is especially true when you look at the energy security
threats presented by pirates as well as local and transnational criminal and terrorist groups in the
Gulf of Guinea49.

Capacity building programs represent a very real, scalable approach to countering the numerous
maritime threats present in the Gulf of Guinea. Challenges certainly exist, but similar challenges in
other regions have been mitigated cost-effectively through an industry-based approach. Such
programs are eminently compatible with existing strategies of foreign government-led capacity
building, such as the United States’ Africa Partnership Station (APS) program50, with local initiatives
to bolster maritime security forces, and with the existing private sector practice of deploying armed
guards on merchant vessels. With a broad-spectrum approach to the problem, such complementary
strategies provide the region with interconnected layers of security in order to deal with maritime
threats as effectively as possible, and in a cost-effective way. Regional authorities are scheduled to
meet in Cotonou, Benin in October, to discuss maritime security strategies51, and one can only hope
that a private sector approach is considered

Further Reading
Advancing U.S., African, and Global Interests: Security and Stability in the West African Maritime
Domain – Atlantic Council (John Raidt & Kristen E. Smith)
Africa Command: U.S. Strategic Interests and the Role of the U.S. Military in Africa – Congressional
Research Service (Lauren Ploch)

A Mature Maritime Strategy For Africa to Meet National Security Goals – Joint Advanced Warfighting
School, Joint Forces Staff College, National Defense University (CAPT Ray A. Stapf)

Short Bio
Nic Jenzen-Jones is a security and defence industry consultant, writer, and analyst. He is the co-editor
of Security Scholar ( and can be found on Twitter (@RogueAdventurer).


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