Global Maritime security Conference: Gulf of Guinea States gather in Abuja to tackle marime crime crisis
With a growing number of incidents of piracy, the epicentre of
global piracy has gradually shifted into the Gulf of Guinea,adding further to the multi-
dimensional security threats faced by the region. This trend has found many coastal countries
insufficiently prepared in terms of their capacity to effectively prevent and counter attacks
carried out by pirates within and beyond their coastal waters. Moreover, all types of trafficking
flows through the Gulf of Guinea continue to constitute a major breeding ground for
transnational organized crime operating across the region and globally with devastating effects
on the people of the region.
The West African opioid epidemic is primarily fueled by the smuggling of tramadol by sea. The
amount of tramadol seized in Nigeria mostly at its ports – rose from less than eight tons in 2014
to close to 150 tons in 2018. In the whole of West Africa more than 430 tons of tramadol have
been seized in the period between 2014 and 2017, with tramadol seizures being recorded in
Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Niger, Nigeria and Togo.
West Africa is accounting for
three quarters of all tramadol seized globally.
Another trafficking flow appearing to be on a steep rise concerns wildlife and forestry products,
including ivory, pangolin scales and rosewood. According to media reports, in 2018 and early
2019 more than 37 tons of mostly pangolin scales were seized, all allegedly originating from
Lagos sea ports.
This marks a sharp increase from the less than eight tons of pangolin scales
seized in 2016 and 2017 by all States parties to the Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species (CITES) collectively.
Further, West African waters are abundant with high
prized seafood and are estimated to have one of the highest number of incidents of illegal,
unregulated and unreported fishing in the world, representing up to 37% of the region’s
Recent efforts taken by some countries to strengthen their legal, institutional and operational
response are laudable, but are yet to show their full impact. A massive gap remains in terms of
bringing captured pirates to justice, identifying their financiers and trace, seize and confiscate
their illicit proceeds. This gap is most glaring when comparing the more than 1400 convictions
obtained against pirates captured off the Horn of Africa and in the Indian Ocean against none so
far in the Gulf of Guinea.
One of the fundamental stumbling blocks remains the inadequacy of the legal framework. Many
countries in the region are yet to fully domesticate the relevant provisions of the United Nations
Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). According to legal assessments carried out by
UNODC in 12 countries of Central and West Africa between 2014 and 2019, only a few national
frameworks fully met the requirements of UNCLOS in terms of criminalizing piracy and
establishing universal jurisdiction. Thus, successful investigations leading to effective
prosecutions remain rare, making maritime crime in general and maritime piracy in particular a
low risk high reward criminal activity.
Attacks at sea in the Gulf of Guinea have passed through various transformations and are
becoming increasingly complex and violent, similar and possibly exceeding what was previously
experienced in East Africa. In order to counter this threat and improve criminal justice responses
to maritime crime, legal frameworks need to follow the quick evolution of criminal offences
committed at sea by creating new regulations, i…
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