Maritime Security: Efforts to Protect African Waters

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Maritime security plays a crucial role in Africa’s economic development and regional stability, given the continent’s extensive coastline of over 30,000 kilometers. These waters are important for international trade, fishing, and energy resources, and address the numerous maritime threats that plague the region.


The Gulf of Guinea and the Horn of Africa are particularly vulnerable to piracy, with the former being a hotspot for maritime crime. In 2020, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported that the Gulf of Guinea accounted for 95% of global kidnappings at sea. In 2023, this region witnessed a staggering 51 incidents of piracy and armed robbery, resulting in the kidnapping of 115 crew members for ransom. Tragically, 25 seafarers lost their lives in piracy-related incidents in African waters during the same year.


In the Horn of Africa, although piracy off the coast of Somalia has decreased significantly since its peak in the early 2010s, occasional attacks still occur. In 2023, there were 5 reported incidents of piracy, a slight increase from the previous year. This ongoing threat not only disrupts maritime trade and commerce but also poses a significant risk to seafarers and coastal communities.


The economic cost of illegal fishing alone is estimated to be around $2.3 billion annually for West African economies. Maritime insecurity can also exacerbate existing conflicts and contribute to instability in the region by facilitating criminal networks and trafficking, further compounding the devastating consequences.


According to a study conducted by Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP), the cumulative impact of maritime insecurity, encompassing piracy, illegal fishing, and other maritime crimes, imposes a significant economic burden on African economies. Estimated to be approximately $24 billion annually, this cost comprises both direct expenses such as ransom payments, security measures, and insurance premiums, as well as indirect costs arising from lost trade, increased shipping costs, and the devastating effects on coastal communities.


Investment and Economic Impact

The United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) has been actively involved in initiatives aimed at enhancing maritime security in Africa. AFRICOM has committed major resources to enhance maritime security in Africa, allocating approximately $500 million since 2008 to a range of initiatives, including Exercise Obangame Express, training programs, joint exercises, and capacity-building efforts.


These investments aim to enhance the security and stability of African waters, thereby reducing the risk of maritime threats and promoting a safe and secure passage of vital shipping routes. This, in turn, leads to decreased insurance costs and fosters safer trade and investment environments. African governments have also committed substantial resources to combat maritime insecurity, collectively spending over $2 billion on maritime security initiatives over the past decade.


These expenditures have been directed towards upgrading naval and coast guard fleets, training maritime personnel, and promoting regional cooperation through initiatives like the Yaoundé Code of Conduct and the Djibouti Code of Conduct. African governments have invested in technological enhancements, such as radar systems and satellite tracking, to improve maritime domain awareness.


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These collective efforts have yielded tangible benefits, including the potential for African economies to save up to $10 billion annually by reducing piracy-related costs and boosting trade and investment. A secure maritime domain can also lead to increased economic activity and growth, making it essential for African nations to continue investing in this critical area.


The efforts of the United States Africa Command to safeguard African waters are paramount in the fight against maritime insecurity, strengthening regional stability and economic growth.  By working together, AFRICOM and African governments can create a safer and more secure maritime environment that benefits all stakeholders involved.

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