West African Countries to Activate Joint Maritime, Air Surveillance, Intervention in the Gulf of Guinea

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Some West African countries including Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Niger have activated a joint maritime and air surveillance and intervention of the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) waters, in order to ensure safety and security in the maritime domain of Zone E. This was done through the deployment of operational patrols and sustained force at sea.

Themed “Enhancing Maritime Security Through Collaboration for Regional Prosperity”, the joint task force codenamed ‘Operation Safe Domain 11’, that was originally flagged off at Cotonou Port Naval Base, Republic of Benin, last Monday, and introduced three vessels from participating nations with Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Aba, as commanded by Commander Samson Fiyai.

The three vessels which are from Nigeria, Benin Republic and Togo, alongside the aircraft provided by Nigeria, will patrol and monitor the total water area of 105,746 square nautical miles (sqnm) during the five-day operation.

The operation was targeted at tackling piracy and other maritime crimes; all within the structure of maintaining law and order by police duties at sea; so as to deny pirates and other maritime criminals freedom of action that is said to thrive on the Zone E flank of the GoG waters.

The Director of Multinational Maritime Coordination Centre (MMCC) Zone E, Commodore Aniedi Ibok, spoke at the inauguration and said the operation was in furtherance of the implementation of the MOU on Joint Maritime Operations and Patrols (JMOP) that was earlier agreed upon by all the countries involved.

He also said the objectives of the patrols and joint operations amongst others are to pool resources of the States parties, make the maritime resources interoperable, evaluate the Standard Operational Procedures (SOPs), and operationalise the right of hot pursuit as defined by the rules of engagement and multilateral and bilateral memoranda, and finally, secure the maritime area of the ‘Maritime Zone E.

The director stressed that the adopted strategy involves extensive research and exchange of information, and that this was to ensure enhanced safety and security in the maritime domain of zone E through operational patrols and sustained force presence at sea.

Furthermore, the director noted that this will strengthen cooperation amongst Zone E countries, navies and other maritime actors through capacity building in maritime law enforcement operations, intelligence sharing and technical assistance amongst others, as well as laying the foundation for further joint/combined operations.

Under the sponsorship of ECOWAS and Member States of Zone E, the operation was based on the successes recorded by the pilot exercise earlier in November 2021.

According to Ibok, “The successful arrest and trial of pirates onboard a Chinese fishing vessel, FV HAILUFENG 11 and vessels of interest such as STI SOHO. The operation also led to foiling the attacks and setting free TOMMI RITSCHER and MAXIMUS with their crew.”

The Benin Chief of Defence Staff, Brigadier General Fructueux Gbaguidi, who was the special guest of honour and who flagged off the operation, said the operation was relevant because the country had been dealing with pirate issues on its waters.

He said that was one of the reasons the four countries came together to form a formidable force to fight against piracy and maritime crimes; adding that “the collaboration of these countries led to the establishment of ‘Op Safe Domain I’ in 2021 and the success of the operation has led to ‘Op Safe Domain II’ in 2023.

“This has made it possible for us to realise the objectives of securing our waters and checkmating the activities of pirates and sea crime in our maritime domain.”

Also speaking, the Benin Republic Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Captain Jean Le’on Olatoundji stressed that collaboration of countries is the only thing that can help improve the fight against the disastrous activities of piracy; adding that ‘Op Safe Domain II’ demonstrated the member countries’ common will to face the threat in the maritime domain and piracy in the zone.

The director, Regional Maritime Security Coordination Centre, West Africa, Commodore Richard Shammah, noted that the issue of sea blindness was gradually being eradicated, and that countries are now becoming more aware of the great economic importance of what the sea offers to their various economies.

He said: “So, for us to have economic prosperity at sea, we must have a safe and secured Maritime domain. This operation is necessary so that we can have a sea line of communication and trade and no one country can do it alone; hence the collaborative effort.”

After the flag off, the CO of NNS Aba, Commander Fiyai said the operation would afford all the countries involved to be familiar with each other’s operating procedure, and this will in turn, ensure a more effective and seamless patrol.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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