November 16th, 2006 11:04 EST
Framework For Action Plan Adopted at Ministerial Conference
COTONOU, Benin (NNS) -- The Gulf of Guinea Maritime Safety and Security Ministerial conference concluded here Nov. 15 with the adoption of an action plan that was agreed to by each of the 11 participating Gulf of Guinea nations.
More than 110 participants attended the three-day conference sponsored by the U. S. Department of State, the U.S. European Command, Commander, Naval Forces Europe and the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, devoted to maritime safety and security in the Gulf of Guinea.
Countries represented included Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Nigeria, São Tomé and Principe, Togo, South Africa, Senegal, as well as five European nations and the United States. Representatives of regional and international organizations, as well as industry, were also key participants in the discussions.
Reflecting a growing regional commitment to confront pressing maritime safety and security challenges, ministers and ministerial representatives from each Gulf of Guinea country agreed in the action plan to collaborate on the basis of six shared objectives: strengthen and sustain political will; improve maritime domain awareness; strengthen regulatory frameworks; enhance regional cooperation; enlist the support of regional and international partners; and raise public awareness.
“The political will demonstrated by these countries is essential for us to see progress in maritime security,” said U. S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi E. Frazer.
United States support for maritime safety and security in the Gulf of Guinea region is part of a coordinated interagency effort, and is being developed in full partnership and consultation with African partner nations in meetings such as these in Benin.
“The United States is most interested in following the vision and the lead of African nations," said Frazer, who led the U.S. delegation and delivered the keynote address at the conference. "We believe that the best solutions to issues facing the continent stem from those most affected.”
Conference discussions and the action plan focused on building support for a regional approach that integrates all who have a stake in maritime safety and security.
The fact that so many nations participated in this ministerial-level meeting was reflective of a growing regional commitment, according to Adm. Harry Ulrich, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe.
“The ministers came together with a common goal: to work together to address a rising tide of illegal activity in the Gulf of Guinea," he said. "They are keenly aware of the positive impact in terms of economic and social development that is within reach, and the conference outcome indicates they are committed to common goals.”
The economic consequences of maritime insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea region are many, including hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue lost each year to illegal and unregulated fishing and $1.5 billion lost to oil theft annually. Also of concern is widespread trafficking in human beings, drugs, and other illicit goods.
Ulrich stressed that the first step in combating these issues is to improve the awareness of what is happening at sea.
"What is of greater concern are the statistics that we do not have because of incomplete awareness," he added. "Lawbreakers seek the path of least resistance, and we have the simple technology to identify them so that our African partners can share this information within a regional network and enforce their sovereignty at sea.”
“The progress we made here was impressive,” said Ambassador Peter Chaveas, acting director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. “There was a tremendous amount of teamwork and substantial constructive dialogue from all parties as this framework was developed.”
Ulrich summarized the work of the three-day conference by saying, “The United States and our European partners are committed to helping African nations build capacity to improve maritime governance. Our increased presence in the Gulf of Guinea is a sure sign of this commitment, and we aspire to do more. We are listening and learning from our African partners as we assist them in efforts to develop regional solutions to very serious regional maritime safety and security challenges.”
From Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe/Commander, U.S. 6th Fleet Public Affairs