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.
The efforts of both regional and international actors in tackling blue crime have focused on treating symptoms rather than approaching the root causes of it. Focus has been on punitive efforts against those committing blue crime, rather than tackling the issues that drive people into blue crime in the first place. The area where most blue crime in the GoG originates is the Niger Delta (Ukeje & Mvomo Ela, 2013, p. 23). This region is approximately 36,000 square kilometres of southern Nigeria and home to a massive petroleum extraction industry that causes massive environmental damage and a largely impoverished population (Waddington, 2021, p. 2). The environmental damage has reduced fish stocks substantially, leading to many fisherfolk travelling outside their legal fisheries in order to catch enough fish to survive (Okafor-Yarwood, 2020, p. 127). Others have resorted to piracy (either taking part directly or working as lookouts) and smuggling (Ibid, p. 125, 131).
For the best equipped and most able pirates, kidnap and ransom attacks are a significant business, bringing around $4million in ransom pay-outs in 2020 (Jacobsen, 2021, p. 11). For these advanced pirates, there are significant criminal networks to provide the substantial costs needed for equipment and personnel. These networks are largely believed to be centred on ex-Niger Delta militant leaders that were given political power and impunity for ending their insurgency in the mid-2000s (Waddington, 2021, p. 4). This suggests any effort to tackle blue crime in the GoG will require efforts to develop not only regional institutions, maritime law enforcement and judicial systems but also to develop the regions blue criminals are coming from. Serious efforts to reduce the pollution of petroleum extraction (particularly the practice of excessive gas flaring) and to provide employment opportunities for those that have lost livelihoods as a result of those living in the damaged areas.
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.