The Gulf of Guinea (GoG) is a vital sea lane stretching across the West African coast. The actual area constituting the GoG has evolved over time. The Gulf of Guinea Commission (GGC) founded in 2001 reaches from Nigeria to Angola and presents a small GoG. However, more recently the United Nations Security Council has stretched this, defining the GoG as the coastal states of both the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) as well as those in the GCC (UNSC, 2011). This broader definition has since been adopted by the countries that made up the original GGC as well as ECOWAS and ECCAS. This definition was further embedded through the Yaoundé Code of Conduct adopted these countries (Yaounde Code of Conduct, 2013).
This piece will be examining transnational efforts to fight crime at sea in the GoG since the Yaounde Code of Conduct as this act seemed to represent a massive re-structuring of maritime security in the region. Of particular importance was the introduction of the Yaounde Architecture that enabled greater regional and transnational cooperation in tackling blue crime. This piece will critically analyse the measures taken since 2013 in regard to fighting blue crime. This will be followed by evaluating their success and issues that have been ignored despite their critical importance to security in the region.
Maritime security in the GoG has long been a major issue, both for its littoral nations and the wider global community. Around 24,000 vessels pass through GoG annually carrying vital trade goods across continents (Daxecker & Prins, 2021). The Gulf is critical for the transport of petroleum from 5 OPEC countries; Angola, The Republic of Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria. In crude oil alone, this is around 3.7 million barrels per day (Oganization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, 2021). This makes the Gulf essential in maintaining global energy security. As well as the energy sector, fishing in the GoG is also a huge industry, employing an estimated 9 million people in West Africa directly and indirectly. The catch of fish also the only source of protein for vast populations along the Gulf littoral (Okafor-Yarwood, 2020). The vast scale of maritime trade and industry in the GoG has left the region a hub of “blue crime”. Blue crime consists of illegal activity at sea and is generally understood as: Crimes against mobility (theft, kidnap for ransom, hijacking), criminal flows (transnational smuggling, including people, arms, petroleum and narcotics) and environmental crimes (fisheries crime, illegal resource extraction, pollution) (Bueger & Edmunds, 2020, p. 3).
All three subtypes of blue crime are found in the GoG. Piracy and armed robbery at sea have been the issues drawing most attention due to their impact on international interests and its overt, violent nature. However, illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing presents a huge threat to GoG fish stocks and therefore the millions that rely on fish for both food and employment (Okafor-Yarwood, 2020, p. 125) and likewise smuggling and the proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALW) causes substantial destabilisation throughout the region (Adibe, et al., 2019, p. 343). Despite the different categories of blue crime seeming distinct, the reality is there is huge overlap. IUU fishermen are often also involved in smuggling arms (notably to Ambazonian separatists in Cameroon) (Okafor-Yarwood, 2020, p. 126). Similarly pirates rely on smuggled weapons for their own operations, and often launch attacks against others taking part in illegal smuggling or fishing (Jacobsen, 2021, p. 13). Blue crime in the GoG is inherently transnational, the Gulf has around 6,000 kilometres of coastline across 16 countries (Adibe, et al., 2019). Blue criminals are easily able to cross maritime borders due to their length and the difficulty in effectively policing them. This has meant when crackdowns on blue crime occur in one region, cases can rise in neighbouring waters (Yücel, 2021, p. 147).
Michael has an undergraduate degree in Middle Eastern Studies from University of Edinburgh, he is currently a post-graduate student on the International Masterin Security, Intelligence and Strategic Studies program led by the University of Glasgow. His research focus is violent non-state actors such as insurgents, militias and pirates. He has produced several whitepapers for ARX covering piracy in Africa and South East Asia.