International Navy mission helps West Africa fight illegal maritime activities

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Deployed in September to conduct assistance to different African countries through November, Johan de Witt, a Dutch Navy vessel of the African Partnership Station (APS) — a coalition of international naval assets, in conjunction with an international team of maritime experts including elements from Belgium, Portugal, the Netherlands and the United States, aims to address the issue of maritime safety and security challenges in the western African region. The assistance will focus on the unlawful, piracy and illicit trafficking as well as unregulated and illegal fishing, in the region’s waters.

According to a 2005 study by the Department For International Development (DFID), the UK government’s official aid agency, hundreds of unlicensed fishing vessels enter African waters each day to trawl for shrimp, sardines, tuna, and mackerel, costing the continent some $1 bn a year.

It is hoped that the APS program will bring the necessary security support to the region. The assistance will be conducted in various African countries through November, with stops in Cape Verde, Ghana, Liberia, Senegal and Sierra Leone. The vessel has nearly 50 African naval personnel onboard receiving training in maritime law enforcement.

Piracy in African waters is not limited to the Somali region or the Gulf of Aden alone. It affects other shipping routes, especially where policing is inadequate, as in West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea, which saw 40 pirate attacks from January to November 2008. According to Len le Roux of the South African Institute of Security Studies, to be effective against piracy, Africa’s coastal countries would need “effective early warning and intelligence services, credible deterrent and reaction forces … high mobility … and the ability to sustain operations for long periods.” He insists that those are precisely the capabilities “sorely lacking in Africa.”

The international community is helping West African countries make their waters safer. The US and European countries are helping to build stronger African navies and are policing territorial waters with African assistance. Such partnerships are partly driven by the area’s strategic interest as an oil-exporting region, as well as concern over the recent use of West African waters by traffickers of cocaine and immigrants to Europe.

Other assistance

The deployment is also part of a series of an ongoing humanitarian effort that will allow various local populations to benefit from the team’s expertise. During a stop, Thursday, in Lungi, Sierra Leone, the team evaluated and carried out repairs on parts of the Bai Bureh Memorial Community Hospital. They also trained the hospital staff on proper maintenance and emergency repair procedures to enable them deal with similar problems in the future. Additionally, the ship’s crew presented more than 100 boxes of school supplies and toys, donated by Dutch school children to students at the Eslembe Mayal elementary school.

APS Johan de Witt also delivered medical equipment, furniture, vehicles and relief supplies; including medical beds, toys, plumbing, construction equipment and vehicles. The donations will be divided between three hospitals here in Sierra Leone; Bai Burch Hospital in Lungi, Tunguma Hospital, and the government hospital in Port Loko.

APS, originally a U.S. Navy-led initiative, is an international effort aimed at improving maritime safety and security for the continent of Africa through training and other collaborative activities with African partner countries.

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