Benin maritime conference wraps up

Delegates at the Maritime Safety and Security Seminar this week in Benin. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Olufemi Owolabi/U.S. Africa Command)

A record number of piracy attacks were reported in the Gulf of Guinea last year, according to the International Maritime Organization, making it one of the top 10 piracy hotspots in the world and prompting a push by insurers to label the region “high risk.”

Those are distinctions countries in the area would like to see go away.

This week in Benin, member states of the Economic Community of West African States and the Economic Community of Central African States  discussed how to prevent piracy, smuggling and other security challenges affecting the region’s waterways and commercial trade. The two groups, plus experts and representatives from outside organizations, met for two days at the annual Maritime Safety and Security Seminar, hosted by U.S. Africa Command and the Africa Center for Strategic Studies.

In October, the United Nations passed resolution 2018, which encourages the affected states to work together and also calls for more international aid and a UN assessment mission. Also last year, Nigeria and Benin launched joint sea patrols that resulted in the arrests of at least eight alleged pirates.

The seminar built on previous meetings and continued the effort to cement an agreement between the West and Central African states involved.

“This initiative comes at a time when the menace of and threat posed by piracy is touching the pillars of the economy of both the coastal and land locked states in our region,” according to Lt. Col. Abdourahmane Dieng, Senegal head of regional security. “Within West Africa, and the Gulf of Guinea in particular, we can identify a series of trans-border crimes such as hijacking, armed robbery, illegal migration, illicit fishing, toxic waste dumping, human trafficking, illegal drug trafficking, piracy and hostage taking.”

Col. Austin Anyalechi, a Nigerian Army engineer and his country’s defense attaché to Cotonou, said collaborative efforts like those emphasized at this week’s meeting are key to preventing maritime crime and security threats.

“All efforts have been made by individual nations, but no single nation can combat the problem of piracy alone,” Anyalechi said. “That’s why it calls for the need for synergy. So, with the two economic communities coming together under this kind of arrangement, I am very optimistic that it is actually going to yield the desired result of curbing the menace of piracy and sea robbery, and other related forms of maritime insecurity.

Note: Staff Sgt. Olufemi Owolabi, U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs, reported this week from Benin. Click here to read the entire story. 

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