The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has thrown its weight behind a new Code of Conduct aimed at “the prevention and repression of piracy, armed robbery against ships and illicit maritime activity in west and central Africa.” An IMO statement say that the Code will be opened for signature in May this year, when a meeting of the Heads of State and Government of Central and West African States is scheduled in Cameroon.
IMO Secretary-General Koji Sekimizu said, in connection, “IMO has been working for a number of years with international development partners on a number of activities aimed at enhancing the ability of individual States in the region, and the wider sub-region, to build a sustainable maritime capacity and we look forward to continuing to work with them to support the implementation of this Code and to work together to repress piracy, armed robbery against ships and other illicit maritime activity off the coasts of west and central Africa.”
“We look forward to continuing to work with the countries to assist in the implementation of this new Code,” he added.
Developed in the aftermath of UN resolutions in 2011 and 2012, the Code was developed by ECOWAS, the Economic Community of Central African States. It is meant to put in place a broad based strategy to tackle the growing menace of piracy and armed robbery in the region, and will, with the support to the IMO, mean that countries can share information, coordinate operational and jurisdictional issues, pursue prosecution of apprehended suspects- and facilitate proper care, treatment and repatriation of seafarers and others, ‘particularly those who have been subjected to violence’.
The IMO has been involved in a series of “table top exercises” in the region since last year, meant to help coordinate maritime security and maritime law enforcement issues between States in the region. Started with an exercise held in Ghana, this IMO initiative was seen later in Equatorial Guinea, the Gambia, Liberia and Sierra Leone. On the anvil are further exercises scheduled for Côte d’Ivoire, the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Senegal. The IMO is also supporting the Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF) and the Government of Ghana to develop the Maritime Trade Information Sharing Centre (MTISC) in Ghana. This will “receive and promulgate information from and to merchant shipping operating in the area in order to assist them to develop situational awareness”, the IMO says.
Signatories to the new Code “intend to co-operate to the fullest possible extent in the prevention and repression of piracy and armed robbery against ships, transnational organised crime in the maritime domain, maritime terrorism, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and other illegal activities at sea,” it reiterates.
Analysts say that the Code is well meaning, but some countries in the region will nevertheless have to do much more if the Code is to succeed in repressing West African piracy. Some say that the Code is more a response to recent incidents involving terrorists on the ground in West Africa rather than piracy in the water. They also point out that the Code is fashioned on the older Djibouti Code of Conduct that was developed with IMO assistance for the Western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden area, and which was somewhat less than successful in the end.