Safety at sea - More than piracy

Safety at sea - More than piracy

Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Military Science, in cooperation with the Royal Danish Defence College and the University of Dar es Salaam, hosted the third On Strategy conference from 18 to 20

September 2013 on the specific issue of Maritime Security off Eastern Africa: Beyond Piracy. Good order at sea in the waters off Eastern Africa were discussed by a wide range of interesting parties from Africa, India and Europe that included academics, naval personnel and other interested parties. The maritime dimension embraces virtually every major issue that confronts the east African region at present. 

Though the seas off the Eastern African coast have been plague by piracy it became quite clear that good order at sea comprises much more than piracy. Piracy, though, made an important contribution in raising maritime awareness in Africa in general and East Africa in particular. It became quite clear that there is a dire need to develop a comprehensive understanding of the nexus between the importance of the maritime domain, its security and Africa’s prosperity. In Africa, the debate on good order at sea is often underpinned by questions about whose interests are served by the safety and security of the maritime domain, and who is benefitting from good order at sea. 

About 60% of Africa’s population lives within 160km of the sea, 90% of Africa’s trade is via the sea, and 200 million Africans depend on fish as a protein resource. This means that a substantial proportion of Africa’s economic, and by implication political, activities are closely connected to good order at sea. The link between the wellbeing of coastal communities and access to safe seas are therefore rather obvious.  

In Africa, with its many lakes and large rivers, the importance of the inland maritime domain is growing. This is linked to the reality that inland states are heavily dependent on their coastal neighbours for access to the sea.  The cost of transport, access to markets and instability in coastal states negatively influence many land-lock countries in Africa. Consequently, good order at sea translates into economic growth and development for both coastal states and their land-lock neighbours. A particular emphasis upon this often neglected relationship formed part of the conference discussions. 

A question raised, enquired about the cost for Africa of not investing in the development and safeguarding of the maritime domain and maritime infrastructure. The question is closely linked to the rising role and increasing participation of private security companies in safeguarding the seas and maintaining good order at sea. The role of private security companies should be seen against the background of the lack, the cost and the underdeveloped state of Africa’s naval capabilities. The lack of a comprehensive maritime awareness in Africa challenges navies in ‘selling the sea’ to political office bearers and local communities. Navies, in securing good order at sea, face the additional challenge that existing naval technology and platforms were developed for high intensity military roles and that they need to re-orientate available platforms, technologies and existing mind frames.          

Many African states still find it difficult to enforce their jurisdiction and assert sovereignty in their territorial waters. This is not only the result of a lack of naval capabilities and other maritime infrastructure. Functioning national institutions are critical for the enforcement of jurisdictional and maritime international and national legislation. Enforcing jurisdiction in territorial waters require a long-term commitment from governments and communities – an understanding that they are in it ‘for the long haul’.  

At a continental level Africa has made great strides in the development of the African Integrated Maritime Security Strategy 2050 (AIMS-2050) by the African Union. AIMS-2050 highlighted the need for Africans to take responsibility for the safety and security of the waters around and within Africa. The strategy, though, reflects the reality that there is no shortage of good ideas and plans in Africa. The challenge is to operationalise the ideas contained in AIMS-2050 by linking it to reasonable timeframes and available resources for execution.          

Critical questions were raised about the generally accepted idea that the roots of African maritime instability are on land and that good order at sea off East Africa is dependent on the development, safety and security of the adjacent maritime communities. Good order at sea is rather dependent on a comprehensive approach and the integration of sea-based and landward-driven methods rooted in an all-embracing understanding of the importance of the sea for development on land. After all, the salient piracy threat off the Horn of Africa significantly declined, only when actions at sea took shape to support the landward.

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