Securing Ghana’s offshore resources

Can Ghana avoid the maritime security issues which plague other Gulf of Guinea nations?

Securing Ghana’s Offshore Resources In the Face of Piracy

By Mutaru Mumuni Muqthar

The Horn of Africa (HOA) is a popular reference for maritime piracy discourse in Africa. Here, pirates have launched attacks involving over 4,185 seafarers aboard vessels making in excess of US$58m in ransom income in 2009. This surged to $238m in 2010, involving over 1,090 hostages in 2010 alone, making the HOA one of the most dangerous maritime domains in the world.

Today, piracy incidents in the HOA area are down and today’s turf has shifted. That new attraction is in the Gulf of Guinea, a coast stretching some 2,500 km2 from Cape Lopez in Gabon North to Cape Three Points in the West of Ghana. Since Ghana discovered oil in 2007 in commercial quantities estimated at about 5 billion barrels in proven reserves, the security of the country’s shores has gained prominence ranging from piracy, terrorism and smuggling to continental shelf disputes with neighboring countries. In no area has the threat been considered more prominent than in the area of maritime piracy. According to the UNODC during the period 2012/2013, reported incidents in the Gulf of Guinea exceeded that recorded in the Horn of Africa during the same period.

Not only does Ghana’s proximity to the Gulf of Guinea render it susceptible to the threat of piracy, a booming black market for fuel in West Africa also adds to the risk. Oil is the single most important product of economic trade tranported mainly via sea in the West Africa region. Over 90% of overall cargo trade is conducted by sea. And the trade is (dis)organized in such a way that it leaves a lot of room for a proclivity to chaos and black market operations. The existence in Nigeria of a large black market further cements the attraction for pirate acts within the larger West Africa region.

Ghana’s vulnerability is not in doubt. “The whole of Ghana is prone to piracy. This is more true following the country’s discovery of oil’’ admits Mr. Asante Apeatu, Ghana’s Commissioner for Marine Police. The imminence of maritime piracy, a threat Mr. James Agalga, Ghana’s Deputy Minister for Interior says is not unique to Ghana, is threatening. In fact, there have been two incidents associated with Ghana earlier in 2014. These pirates ostensibly originate largely from Nigeria, with a small number from Benin and Togo. According to the UNODC, pirate victims on Beninois waters have confirmed both English- and French-speaking pirates acting together, indicating a working collaboration. Nigeria leads in the trade recording 57 out of the reported 73 incidents during 2013. It is easy to posit, therefore, that the next spot for them is Ghana.

Mr. Agalga is not unacquainted with this. He avers nonetheless that Ghana’s waters have become extremely dangerous for pirates given the level of the country’s preparedness. ‘‘Once you retool the navy and army the next important tool is to prioritize agency-collaboration and strengthen focus on information sharing’’. The important thing at present is to ensure increased capacity to monitor both territorial and international waters with joint patrol teams from neighboring countries when and where possible.

There is an innate pressure on Ghana not to allow for a replication of the chaos in the Nigerian coast and other West African countries. But Ghana, according to the Ghanaian authorities, is several yards off replicating Nigeria’s experience. And a common argument is that there are significant differences between the two domains. Whiles oil thieves grossed about US$1bn from onshore bunkering annually in Nigeria, there is less chance of cutting through pipelines to siphon oil in Ghana since most of the country’s oil is offshore. Ms. Joana Osei-Tutu of the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Centre (KAIPC) in Ghana relates the fundamental differences here. ‘’Ghana has clearer coast, no creeks and quite clear and secure’’. Importantly, Ghana has a largely law abiding citizenry. Ms. Osei-Tutu observes that the peace that exists emanates from sheer good will of Ghanaians; inherently peaceful people, and not necessarily from effective policing. Mr. Apeatu also admits that the prevailing security environment is largely attributable to Ghanaians. ‘’Ghanaians are a law abiding people. I give the credit to Ghanaians’’

Preparedness and Capacity

Mr. Agalga explains that Ghana is not just counting on the benevolence of other partner nations. The Ghana Maritime Authority (GMA) has launched a modern Vessel Traffic Management Information System (VTMIS), an integrated system meant for continuous electronic surveillance of Ghana’s maritime space with remote sensors built with the capacity to detect and identify ships and boats on the high seas. It has communication towers equipped with marine radars, automatic identification systems, and Close Circuit Television (CCTV) systems to visually monitor vessels and onboard activities far afield.

He elaborates that the project consists of eight remote sensor sites located at Tema, Winneba, Keta, Axim, Big Ada, Half Assini, Takoradi and Cape Coast including three remote base stations at Keta Krachi, Yeji and Anum. The National Control Centre, the nerve center of the system, is located at the Headquarters of the Ghana Maritime Authority (GMA) in Accra. Automatic Identification System (AIS) for vessels/crafts operating on the Volta Lake and a Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT of ships functionality and weather sensors) are included. VTMIS deployed by the Finnish company, ELTEL Networks Corporation, can track vessels within a range of 1,000 nautical miles.

It is this system more than any thing else that serves as the finest tool in the armor of the nation’s security in insulating it from the imminent threat of maritime piracy.

Many challenges however remain. The VTMIS alone is inadequate to eliminate the threat of piracy. The ability to thwart attacks is as important as spotting the attack if not more. Whilst the FPSOs for instance are about 200 nautical miles away, Ghana’s small boats are unable to go beyond 100 nautical miles from the shores. Bigger vessels are required to provide adequate cover to successfully overcome or fight off pirates. Mr Apeatu confirms: ‘‘we need logistics to be able to cover our territorial waters, we need offshore vessels to be able to patrol our waters’’.

There is suspicion of possible friction amongst agencies involved in the sector. Ms. Osei-Tutu establishes that the security set up is characterized by fragmented agencies; the maritime police, maritime authority, the navy, ports and harbours authority. All these working under separate ministries and agencies create space for duplication of duties and potential friction and have a chance of marring the goodwill required to counter a diffuse threat as piracy. In the commissioner’s assessment however, ‘‘we are able to do joint patrols adequately supporting each other; the Marine Police, the Navy, the Maritime Authority. There is a relatively high cordial relationship amongst security agencies’’. This is a big positive, almost a rarity in some security jurisdictions in Africa.

Implications for Maritime Trade for Ghana

Pirate activities have significant economic implications. It raises the risk level and causes insurance agents to adjust their rates. An increase in the incidents of piracy off Ghana’s coast could have a significant effect on international insurance rates for importers and exporters and increase the cost of doing business at the country’s ports. In Benin, the UNODC observes that an upsurge in attacks in 2011 resulted in the international maritime insurance adjustors placing Benin’s waters under the same risk profile as Nigeria’s. This significantly increased the cost of shipping to Benin. This increase in the cost of imports in turn reduces revenues, increases the cost of living and results in a decrease in competitiveness of imports.


Ghana can avoid the same fate. Sustainably secure waters will require deliberate and comprehensive security architecture that involves the Navy, Marine Police, Maritime Authority, the Army, the Interior Ministry and other allied institutions. Proactive security measures in the form of strengthening the capability of the security forces to increase patrols and surveillance on a regular basis using the right equipment and tools in the right measure will serve as strong deterrence.

A master security plan containing onboard defensive measures, a compulsory presence of armed security teams aboard vessels, mandatory modern technology tracking and monitory devices including the Automatic Information and Vessel Tracking Management Information Systems (VTMIS) for companies should be made an obligatory requirement of vessel operations.

Discipline within the forces and a resolve to stump out corruption is critical to bringing safety and order to the sector. Pirates have often times acted in cahoots with law enforcement in Nigeria. This has very damaging implications for a nation’s economy and standing, something the Ghanaian authorities would be intent on avoiding.

There is a correlation between tackling economic and social problems, and the incidence of crime. Thus the country needs to tackle underlining economic and social problems. A group of peasant fisher folks, famers and youths along the coast could be inspired or enticed by foreign pirates and by the allure of the huge monies involved to take to the trade. Some could harness an existing local discontent against authorities by engaging in piracy, maritime robbery or both. A longer-term vision will require that Ghana sets up a Coastal Development Authority (CDA) to oversee the security and development of coastal life and resources along the country’s coast.

Mutari Mumuni is a researcher on terrorism, maritime security and governance in Africa. The opinions expressed in this article are his own and do not necessarily reflect those held by

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