NEWS | March 25, 2021

Sailors Attend a Maritime Security Conference During Exercise Obangame Express

By Cmdr. Ian Midgley

U.S. Navy Reservists attended a maritime security conference in PramPram, Ghana focused on the legal framework underlying the maritime security strategies developed for the Gulf of Guinea.

The conference, entitled “Developing Maritime Security Culture in the Gulf of Guinea,” was hosted by the Kofi Anan International Peacekeeping Training Center (KAIPTC) and took place in conjuction with Exercise Obangame Express 2021.  KAIPTC is a government-sponsored organization that trains military, police and civilian personnel for peacekeeping and peace support operations in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) region and throughout Africa.

The session focused on in-depth discussions of the legal aspects of the maritime security challenge and was presented by Cmdr. Naa Ayeley Akwei-Aryee, legal counsel to Ghana’s Chief of Naval Staff. Akwei-Aryee is a graduate of the US Army Judge Advocate Generals’ School graduate course and of the U.S. Defense Institute of International Legal Studies.

“Maritime security is important for exploiting maritime resources and securing livelihoods and development,” Akwei-Aryee said. “Ensuring the security of the Gulf of Guinea is beyond the capacity of any one nation. There is the need for greater collaboration and cooperation of maritime initiatives.”

Attendees included Navy Reserve personnel assigned to U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. Sixth Fleet Legal; Cmdr. Ian Midgley and Lt. Cmdr. Christopher George, and Information Warfare Unit personnel, Information Systems Technician 1st Class Samuel Ellis.

“You cannot even begin to estimate how valuable it is to hear firsthand from those in the thick of the fight about the nature of the maritime security challenges and the fresh ideas being discussed to try to overcome them,” Midgley said.  “It is clear that operators need the appropriate legislation in place in order to close the net.”

Akwei-Aryee spent time tracing the history of the various maritime strategies developed by regional entities and discussed international treaties and other legislation used to implement the strategies. She specifically addressed the Yaounde Code of Conduct, an agreement signed by the majority of Gulf of Guinea nations designed to encourage collaboration, coordination, information sharing, and sharing of resources in the fight against piracy and sea-based criminal activity. 

Discussions addressed further need for more nations to enact domestic legislation against piracy in order to effectively prosecute and punish those who commit armed robbery on the high seas. Participants walked through the facts of several legal cases that showcased the challenges faced bringing sea-based criminals to justice.

“The importance of legislation in the fight against maritime insecurity cannot be underestimated,” Akwei-Aryee said. “Though international legal frameworks have provided a normative regime for responding to maritime security threats in the Region, there has been a general lack of implementation mechanisms by the Gulf of Guinea States. This limits the nation’s capacity to exercise jurisdiction, prosecution and enforcement.”

Maritime security stakeholders from various countries, backgrounds, and specialties participated in the discussions, to include junior and senior officers from navies and coast guards throughout West and Central Africa, police officers, customs officials, and fisheries inspectors.  Lessons learned were shared openly about successes and best practices as well as areas of frustration that require further redress.

“National actions in tackling issues of maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea will be more effective if there is a “legal finish” with the domestication of international conventions and laws to punish maritime related crimes. A comprehensive maritime security strategy can be agreed upon, adopted by all and even implemented, but without the much needed “legal finish” it will only be partially successful,” Akwei-Aryee said.

Obangame Express, conducted by U.S. Naval Forces Africa, is an at-sea maritime exercise designed to improve cooperation among participating nations in order to increase maritime safety and security in the Gulf of Guinea and West Africa coastal regions.

U.S. Sixth Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts the full spectrum of joint and naval operations, often in concert with allied and interagency partners, in order to advance U.S. national interests and security and stability in Europe and Africa.