The Government of Germany, through its International Cooperation Agency GIZ, has handed over monitoring and radio equipment worth 1.2 million Euros to the ECOWAS Commission to support the operations of the Multinational Maritime Coordination Centre (MMCC) Zone F.
As part of the implementation of ECOWAS Integrated Maritime Strategy, the portion of the Gulf of Guinea has been divided into zones. That is Zone E, F and G. Ghana is part of Zone F, which includes Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Burkina Faso.
The Headquarters is being hosted by Ghana with its office located at the Osu Castle, Accra.
The operations of the centre would add to the efforts of ensuring that the Maritime domain is safe and free of criminals since the oceans form the backbone of the economies of Zone F member countries.
Mr Christoph Retzlaff, the German Ambassador to Ghana, said the Gulf of Guinea had been one of the top three hot spots worldwide for criminal activities such as piracy and armed robbery, which has increased significantly over the last decade.
He said these incidents had often occurred in the waters of Nigeria and Benin and the trend had also extended to other neighbouring countries. Mr Retzlaff said activities such as narcotics, arms trade, human trafficking, illegal fishing and potential links with international terrorism posed threats not only to the countries in the Gulf of Guinea but to the whole Region of West Africa and beyond.
He said the international community, and in particular Germany, stood ready to support the countries in the Gulf of Guinea and the regional organisations to fight criminal activities with the aid of maritime security equipment, which would significantly improve security and standard of living for its people.
Mr Dominic Nitiwul, the Minister of Defence, in a speech read on his behalf, said the oceans formed the backbone of national economies and, therefore, curbing transnational maritime crime should be of focal concern to all member countries as they came together to fight illicit maritime activities within their shared boundaries.
He said the Gulf of Guinea had vast and rich resources that remained largely underutilised due to the increasing rate of piracy, sea banditry and other crimes within the maritime domain. “This vast sea is exposed to multiplicity of threats, which in addition to piracy and robbery, includes illegal bunkering, terrorist activities and other organised crimes like smuggling, gun-running, and drug trafficking,” he said.
He said the repercussions of pirate activities and other maritime crimes were felt by the economies of all nations within the Region and beyond. “This gesture by the German Government is a very important one to ensure that our seas are free of criminals. ‘’It is also not surprising that in 2014 when the Heads of States met in Yamoussoukro in Cote d’Ivoire then decided to adopt the ECOWAS Integrated Maritime Strategy, which eventually led to the setting up of Zones within its maritime jurisdictions,” he said.
He said Ghana was proud to host the Headquarters in Accra and government would continue to support the implementation of the Strategy. Mr Dieng Abdourahmane, the ECOWAS Head of Regional Security, said the ECOWAS heads of states and government in their 40th Ordinary Session held in Abuja on February 2012 resolved to develop a holistic maritime policy framework to guide future action plans within the West African Region.
He said this would strengthen collaboration with the Economic Community of Central African States, the Gulf of Guinea Commission and other relevant stakeholders. Mr Abdourahmane said the mandate accorded the ECOWAS Commission to work with various experts including government experts from member states to develop an ECOWAS Integrated Maritime Strategy.
He said Zone E consists of Benin, Niger, Nigeria and Togo, whilst Zone G consists of Cape Verde, the Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Mali and Senegal. Mr Kwame Owusu, the Director-General of the Ghana Maritime Authority, presented a pick-up vehicle to support the operations of the Centre.
By Kwamina Tandoh/Papa Yam Danso, GNA