Illicit maritime activities are a threat to international navigation – Amb Abdel-Fatau

Ambassador Abdel-Fatau Musah, the Commissioner of Political Affairs, Peace, and Security of the ECOWAS Commission, has expressed concern about the persistent threats illicit maritime activities posed to international navigation, security, and sustainable development of States.

Ambassador Abdel-Fatau, raised the concern in a statement read on his behalf by Colonel Abdourahmane Dieng, the Head of Division Regional Security, ECOWAS Commission, during an ECOWAS Inter-Departmental meeting currently under way in Ghana.

Ambassador Abdul-Fatau said the draft supplementary Act concerning cooperation in suppressing illicit maritime activities in ECOWAS provided a veritable tool for Member States to suppress and prosecute transnational organised crime at sea in the region.

The four-day meeting is being coordinated by the ECOWAS Regional Security Division (RSD), which is within the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) framework of its Global Maritime Crime Programme (GMCP) ECOWAS project, “Support to West Africa Integrated Maritime Security” (SWAIMS), funded by the European Union.

Ambassador Abdel-Fatau said it was instructive to note that the suppression of such illicit activities and the prosecution of related offenders were great challenges for many ECOWAS member states for multiple reasons.

He identified some of the challenges as the lack of capacity of many states in the region in maritime assets required for the surveillance of their zones and for the suppression of these crimes.

He noted, “Even if a state does have the necessary assets, it is very likely that due to the proximity of coastal states in the ECOWAS region, illicit vessels could evade seizure by entering the waters of other neighbouring states.

“That latter state may either lack capacity or may not have the necessary jurisdictional powers to seize the vessel concerned and prosecute the suspected persons, and even in the case of a successful boarding and search of a suspect vessel, either in areas within national jurisdiction or on the high seas, there might be a ‘jurisdictional gap’ in the legislation of the boarding state that would be an insurmountable obstacle for the subsequent prosecution of the suspected offenders.”

He said it demonstrated that globally, ensuring a ‘legal finish to the effective prosecution of crimes at sea by competent national authorities had proven to be a Sisyphean task for many states.

Ambassador Abdel-Fatau said the challenges were not only observed in the ECOWAS region or in West Africa, but also manifested in many maritime regions globally, saying, “it is helpful to take notice of how states try to address the relevant issues in other regions to see whether similar initiatives could also be taken in the ECOWAS region.” 

Mr Francis Izeg Omiunu, the National Programme Officer, Global Maritime Crime Programme (GMCP) of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UMODC), said the main goal of the SWAIMS project was to support ECOWAS member states in strengthening the prosecution of piracy.

It also seeks to support the prosecution of other maritime crime cases by improving the application of the rule of law at sea and on land, with the underlisted main activity indicators and targets to assess project achievement.

Mr Omiunu indicated that UNODC, through its Global Maritime Crime Programme, provided support to the full criminal justice system, from sea to land, to ensure that Member States were able to tackle the threats of maritime crimes.

These included piracy, armed robbery at sea, and trafficking in drugs, people, and weapons, as well as securing the waters of coastal states, he said.

He said UNODC would partner with ECOWAS throughout the development, preparation, and presentation of the draft Supplementary Act, for further endorsement by its Member States.

Mr Omiunu said the signature of the draft agreement as a Supplementary Act would also be made through the ECOWAS mechanism for adopting decisions.

Source: GNA

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