Nigeria, Benin Republic, Togo, and Niger Republic have launched “Operation Safe Domain II” to combat piracy and maritime crimes in the Gulf of Guinea.
Speaking at the inauguration on Monday, the Director of Multinational Maritime Coordination Centre Zone E, Commodore Aniedi Ibok, explained that the programme aimed at enhancing maritime security through regional collaboration for prosperity. The event is taking place from September 11 to 15 at Cotonou Port Naval Base, News Agency of Nigeria reports.
The Yaoundé Code of Conduct in 2013 divided the Gulf of Guinea into two regions: one coordinated by the Regional Centre for Maritime Security in West Africa in the West and the other by the Regional Centre for Maritime Security in Central Africa in the East.
The ECOWAS Integrated Maritime Strategy established maritime zones E, F, and G in 2014. Zone E, established earlier as a pilot project, led to the establishment of other zones.
Ibok said that the Joint Maritime Operations and Patrols aim to ensure permanent, joint, and coordinated control of Zone E for maritime safety and security. The operation is sponsored by ECOWAS and Member States of Zone E due to the high rate of illicit maritime activities in the Gulf of Guinea and West African waters, he explained further.
“These security challenges undermine the economic development of the zone while endangering the livelihood of local coastal communities and seafarers in general.
“Therefore, the operation will help defeat the adversary in whatever form they appear,” he said.
According to Ibok, the objectives of the patrols and joint operations are to pool resources of the state’s parties, make the maritime resources interoperable, and evaluate the Standard Operational Procedures.
“The objectives will also operationalise the right of hot pursuit as defined by the rules of engagement, multilateral and bilateral memoranda to secure the maritime area of the ‘Maritime Zone E’,” he said.
The director said that the adopted strategy would comprise research and exchange of information, maritime and air surveillance as well as intervention of the operational units in case of necessity.
“This strategy will enhance the safety and security in the maritime domain of Zone E through operational patrols and sustained force presence at sea.
“It will also strengthen cooperation amongst Zone E countries’ navies and other maritime actors through capacity building in maritime law enforcement operations, intelligence sharing, and technical assistance among others.
“This will invariably lay the foundation for further joint and combined operations,” he said.
Ibok recalled that the Zone E navies contributed similar assets during the execution of ‘Op SAFE DOMAIN I’ in November 2021.
“Some successes recorded from the operation include the improvement of obtaining and sharing daily and weekly intelligence reports among member states, maritime stakeholders, and partners in the zone.
“The successful arrest and trial of pirates onboard 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,” he said.
Ibok mentioned that Operation SAFE DOMAIN II aims to restrict the activities of pirates and maritime criminals by conducting routine policing duties at sea. The operation will cover a total water area of 105,746 square nautical miles and involve three ships and a helicopter for patrol and monitoring.
“I am trusting that member states zone and regional organisations will continue to support all efforts at tackling criminality at sea while sustaining the joint operations for the betterment of the Sub-region.
“Sustaining the joint operation and patrols will enhance security of lives and property in the Gulf of Guinea, particularly in Zone E’s waters for our shared prosperity,” he said.
The Benin Chief of Defence Staff, Brig.-Gen. Fructueux Gbaguidi, who said that the country had been facing piracy problems called out to neighbouring countries for help.
“That is why the four countries have come together to form a formidable force against piracy and maritime crimes.
“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,” Gbaguidi said.
He thanked the authorities of the four countries for coming together to enable the realisation and success of the operation.
“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,” the Brigadier General said.
The Chief of Naval Staff of Benin Republic, Captain Jean Le’on Olatoundji, emphasised the importance of collaboration among countries to enhance the fight against piracy. He stated that ‘Op Safe Domain II’ showcases the collective determination of member countries to address the threat of piracy in the maritime domain.
“I am very confident in the crews’ abilities to carry out this noble mission successfully,” the CNS said.
The Director, Regional Maritime Security Coordination Centre, West Africa, Commodore Richard Shammah, said, “The issue of sea blindness is gradually being eradicated from our minds.
“Countries are now becoming more aware of the great economic importance of what the sea has to their various economy.
“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.
“It is my prayers that the aim and objectives of this collaboration shall be achieved because it will also tend to develop capacity with our navies,” he said.