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Maritime crime

In an effort to address piracy and maritime crimes in the Gulf of Guinea, Nigeria, Benin Republic, Togo, and Niger Republic have jointly initiated “Operation Safe Domain II.” This collaborative maritime security program aims to enhance regional prosperity through improved maritime security. The program, which began on September 11 and is scheduled to run until September 15, is taking place at the Cotonou Port Naval Base, as reported by the News Agency of Nigeria.

The Gulf of Guinea was divided into two regions in 2013 under the Yaoundé Code of Conduct, with one region coordinated by the Regional Centre for Maritime Security in West Africa and the other by the Regional Centre for Maritime Security in Central Africa. In 2014, the ECOWAS Integrated Maritime Strategy established maritime zones E, F, and G, with Zone E being established earlier as a pilot project, leading to the creation of additional zones.

Commodore Aniedi Ibok, Director of the Multinational Maritime Coordination Centre Zone E, explained that the Joint Maritime Operations and Patrols conducted under Operation Safe Domain II aim to ensure permanent, joint, and coordinated control of Zone E for maritime safety and security. This operation is sponsored by ECOWAS and Member States of Zone E in response to the high rate of illicit maritime activities in the Gulf of Guinea and West African waters.

The operation seeks to address security challenges that undermine economic development in the region and endanger the livelihoods of local coastal communities and seafarers. Ibok emphasized that Operation Safe Domain II is determined to defeat adversaries in all forms they may appear.

Key objectives of the patrols and joint operations include pooling state resources, ensuring interoperability of maritime resources, and evaluating Standard Operational Procedures. The operation will also operationalize the right of hot pursuit, as defined by the rules of engagement and multilateral and bilateral memoranda, to secure the maritime area of Maritime Zone E.

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The adopted strategy includes research and information exchange, maritime and air surveillance, and intervention of operational units when necessary. It aims to enhance safety and security in the maritime domain of Zone E through operational patrols and sustained force presence at sea. Additionally, it will strengthen cooperation among Zone E countries’ navies and other maritime actors through capacity building in maritime law enforcement operations, intelligence sharing, and technical assistance.

Commodore Ibok recalled that Zone E navies contributed similar assets during the execution of ‘Op SAFE DOMAIN I’ in November 2021, which resulted in successes such as improved intelligence sharing, the arrest and trial of pirates, and foiled attacks on vessels.

Operation SAFE DOMAIN II will cover a vast water area of 105,746 square nautical miles and involve three ships and a helicopter for patrol and monitoring. The collaborative effort is seen as vital for enhancing maritime security, protecting lives and property in the Gulf of Guinea, particularly in Zone E’s waters, and promoting shared prosperity in the region.

Brig.-Gen. Fructueux Gbaguidi, the Benin Chief of Defence Staff, emphasized the importance of regional collaboration in addressing piracy issues and thanked the authorities of the four countries for their collective efforts in making Operation SAFE DOMAIN II a reality.

Captain Jean Le’on Olatoundji, Chief of Naval Staff of Benin Republic, echoed the sentiment, stating that Operation SAFE DOMAIN II demonstrates the determination of member countries to combat piracy in the maritime domain.

Commodore Richard Shammah, Director of the Regional Maritime Security Coordination Centre, West Africa, highlighted the economic significance of maritime safety and emphasized the need for collaborative efforts to secure sea lines of communication and trade. He expressed optimism that this collaboration would lead to capacity development among participating navies.

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