Environment and Security
In the light of the IMB’s report on maritime crime in West Africa, last Thursday’s panel discussion at The House of Commons was both extremely well timed and topical
Environment and Security in the Gulf of Guinea
The International Maritime Bureau released a report today highlighting the changes to strategies used by criminal gangs off the coast of West Africa. The report also evidenced the fact that attacks on vessels were taking place in a much wider area and much further out to sea.
According to the Bureau’s Cyrus Moody, in one attack pirates boarded a container ship and kidnapped the crew some 170 miles off the coast of Nigeria. In Moody’s opinion this represents “a very different modus operandi” and “capacity to travel further distances.”
In the light of the Bureau’s report, last Thursday’s panel discussion at The House of Commons was both extremely well timed and topical.
The discussion, organised by the Extractive Industries All Party Parliamentary Group and moderated by Eric Joyce – MP for Falkirk and Vice-Chair of the Group, was well attended and covered a considerable amount of subject areas.
The issue of maritime security, and in particular the role of maritime security companies, was discussed as of the outset. Panellist Audun Mikalsen, owner of Afro-Marine, raised the question of the cost of private security citing a recent example in which security provision in Nigeria had cost his company over US$75,000. Fellow Panel member Mark Lowe, editor of the Maritime Security Review (MSR), pointed out that these were prices that reputable companies would charge, pointing out that the potential cost of using an unlicensed security provider could well result much higher than a client might imagine.
Lowe furthered the discussion by briefly explaining the basic legislation governing the formation and licensing of a security company in Nigeria.
Vice Admiral Mike Akhigbe, former Vice President of Nigeria and Chief of Naval Staff, raised the issue of knowledge transfer and collaboration between state security apparatus and the private sector. In the former Chief of Naval Staff’s opinion, there is the will within the Nigerian Navy in particular to work in closer collaboration with the private sector.
The panel highlighted the need for greater collaboration on maritime security matters between Gulf of Guinea states and pertinent stakeholders was raised and members of the audience were asked to comment, Chris Trelawney of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) explained that West and central African nations had recently agreed to create a regional centre to coordinate the fight against piracy in the Gulf of Guinea (see: African States Join Forces).
Discussions moved to lessons learned from Somali piracy and how they could be applied to the gulf of Guinea. MSR’s editor Mark Lowe asked the floor just what lessons, if any, had actually been learned. Security in Complex Environments Group (SCEG) Director Paul Gibson, recognising that the question was deliberately provocative, make a precise list of some of the more important lessons learned that could be applied in the context of the Gulf of Guinea. Amongst these examples, Gibson pointed out the importance of intelligence gathering and dissemination and how experience in the Indian Ocean could be transferred and tailored to the West African coast. Another important issue is that of properly vetting personnel, something that all SCEG members have to adhere to.
Returning to the issue of private security, panel member Audun Mikalsen suggested that there may be cases of scaremongering in the media and in the insurance and private security sectors. The panel briefly discussed if this was the case and who would benefit from it. Given the composition of the audience, there were many who agreed and many who disagreed with the comments made in regards to scaremongering.
The next issue to be addressed was that of transparency and dissemination of information, Mikalsen pointed out that he had been in contact with 17 different companies none of whom wanted to discuss problems that they had encountered in the Gulf of Guinea. This lack of reliable information could be resolved, as Gibson of SCEG had pointed out, by implementing the lessons learned off the East Coast of Africa.
Leaving maritime security and moving on to issues regarding the environment, a number of questions and concerns were raised by both panellists and members of the audience.
Moderator Eric Joyce made an excellent job of steering discussions in such a fashion as to cover as much ground as was possible in a limited timeframe. Unfortunately, after two hours of interesting and occasionally heated debate, Joyce was obliged to bring the discussions to an end.
In summarising Joyce listed the following as the principal topics that had been discussed:
International assistance to regional efforts to counter maritime crime; expanded collaboration amongst stakeholders in the maritime security sector; applying lessons learned off the coast of East Africa in the context of West African maritime crime; the responsibilities of energy companies in avoiding environmental damage; and fair justice for those affected by environmental damages.