Maritime experts differ on planned deployment of Denmark’s frigate in Gulf of Guinea

Former President, Nigerian Association of Master Mariners (NAMM), Captain Adewale Ishola, has said that the decision of Denmark to bring their vessels to patrol the Gulf of Guinea beginning in November 2021 was a welcome development. He said that anti-piracy operations could only be mandated by the United Nation Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), saying that Denmark could depend on such a framework; however, he expressed doubt whether this would be supported at a regional level. Ishola explained: “The deployment of the vessels is not for Nigeria alone.

It is just like what they were doing to Somalian waters in those days. This is a good initiative because the Maersk Line is from the country and I am not surprised about the interest the country is showing to assist the region. There is no much security implication to the region in as much as other navies are there doing the same thing.” He noted that every country has vested interest in the region because their commercial ships sail in the region. The master mariner said that about 40 Danish-operated vessels sail through the Gulf of Guinea weekly.

He stressed that other countries should emulate Denmark in order arrest the spate of insecurity and piracy in the region. Ishola explained that Nigeria had been collaborating with other nations around the Gulf of Guinea to provide adequate security for the Maritime sector within their limited capacity, saying that what the entire region needs is more strategic security plan to tackle the illegal activities in the Gulf of Guinea. According to him, Nigerian Navy had been trying in the fight against piracy within the Niger Delta and the Gulf of Guinea, adding that fighting crime at sea requires teamwork globally. However, the Chief Executive Officer of Anagba Ventures Limited, Mr Vickson Aghanenu, explained that infiltration of a foreign navy without the cooperation of the governments in West Africa would not work.

He noted that no tangible result had been recorded despite the joint collaboration spearheaded by United States and other navies in the region. Aghanenu, ship chandlers advised that if Denmark should bring their warship in November as promised, representatives of other navies in the region should be allowed into the ship for joint exercise. He said: “There are huge resources in the West African seabed which have not being tapped. My fear is that this country which has vested interest in the country’s maritime sector may have discovered one or two things apart from protecting their seaborne trade. AP Moller and Maersk Line are from Denmark.

They have spread their investment in virtually all West African ports. So bringing their frigate to the Gulf of Guinea is not for free.” Meanwhile, the former Director- General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr Dakuku Peterside, had stressed the need for Nigeria to monitor the activities of Denmark to ensure that continental interest is not compromised. He noted that Denmark has taken a decision that unwittingly heats up the Gulf of Guinea. Dakuku said: “Denmark, a tiny European community of 5.3m people, less than the size and population of Rivers State in Nigeria, resolved to send a frigate to patrol and police Gulf of Guinea waters.

“The decision follows a call for a more assertive response to the embarrassing high level of sea crime, piracy and kidnapping for ransom taking place in the region for which international perception puts Nigeria at the centre. “However, if we are really going to get security under control in the Gulf of Guinea an international military presence is necessary.

From the Danish side, we try to have more countries taking responsibility.” Also, ship owners have called on European Union and other countries to support Denmark to tackle the issue of pirate attacks on merchant ships in the Gulf of Guinea off West African waters. Currently, the Gulf of Guinea is considered the world’s most dangerous shipping route for seafarers worldwide to sail due to the risk of pirate attacks.

The Gulf of Guinea, an expanse of the Atlantic Ocean stretching from Senegal to Angola, accounts for almost all maritime kidnappings in recent years. Of the 135 crew abducted at sea globally in 2020, 95 per cent were taken in the region, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).

Hostages are usually taken to Nigeria, where ransoms are arranged. Denmark’s Minister of Defence has already been receiving support from both the German Ship owners’ Association and European Community Ship owners’ Associations (ECSA) for the decision to deploy a frigate in the pirate-plagued Gulf of Guinea off West Africa. Also, the country said that it would negotiate agreements with Nigeria and other countries in West Africa following a decision to send a naval vessel to the Gulf of Guinea to aid the fight against piracy. Gulf of Guinea is considered the world’s most dangerous waters for the international merchant fleet due to pirate attacks, hijackings and kidnappings of seafarers hence the deployment of the Absalon-class Danish frigate equipped with a detachment of Danish marines and helicopter to the Gulf of Guinea between November 2021 and March 2022. The ministry said that warship would also provide escorts to civilian shipping and carry out rescue operations follow ing pirate attacks.

The ship owners said: “We welcome the announcement because it shows that the problem is being taken seriously. For years, the situation in the Gulf of Guinea has been worsening. The European Union should now support its member Denmark and, within the already existing framework of the Coordinated Maritime Presence, do everything in its power to solve this problem with the Gulf countries.”

The German Shipowners’ Association refers to Coordinated Maritime Presence (CMP), a recent EU-approved initiative that allows EU countries to have a maritime presence in the Gulf of Guinea and to share observations, analyses and information.

The CMP also allows EU countries to be present by aircraft and ships and voluntarily coordinate their efforts in the fight against piracy. However, command of ships and aircraft would remain national. According to ECSA Secretary-General, Martin Dorsman, “European ship owners very much welcome Denmark’s decision to send a frigate to the Gulf of Guinea. We urge other EU member states to follow this initiative ASAP; seafarers need to be protected.” In recent months, ships from Torm and Maersk have been attacked by pirates in the Gulf of Guinea.

For instance, in January, a container ship chartered by German shipping company Hapag-Lloyd had 15 crew members kidnapped, while one crew member was killed during the attack. The 15 seafarers were later released unharmed. The many pirate attacks in recent months have prompted Danish defence minister to work toward the establishment of an international naval effort. According to the minister if an attack occurs, the ship will come to the rescue as Danish frigate has the mandate to arrest pirates, seize weapons and prosecute the pirates in the entire Gulf of Guinea, saying that they will also seek to negotiate necessary agreements, including on possible transfer and prosecution of apprehended pirates, with relevant governments in the region. Meanwhile, a Senior Researcher at Center for Military Studies, University of Copenhagen, Katja Lindskov Jacobsen, said that that while the mandate proposal was good, he said that it was also unclear, saying that prosecuting pirates would be difficult.

The UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) allows for the detention of suspected pirates. According to the convention, all naval vessels operating in the open seas were allowed to combat pirates and, among other things, arrest, detain and board pirate vessels as well as seize the pirates’ weapons and equipment.

The pirates can either be pursued in a court of law in the coastal states off Gulf of Guinea such as Nigeria, but doing so requires Denmark to first enter agreements with relevant countries in the region about this, including access to the coastal states’ territorial waters. Within the first three months in 2021, it was gathered that pirates had been targeting areas beyond the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Nigeria with the intention of attacking vessels operating beyond the traditional footprint of domestic naval operations and the normal footprint of commercially provided Security Escort Vessels. This increase in offshore incidents and the lack of capacity highlights the need for international naval engagement, as Nigeria loses 150,000 barrels of crude oil every day to oil thieves, which amounts to about N2.5 billion daily, and over N900 billion annually.

The operation is, however, likely to have several limitations, which reflect the wider systemic issue of coordinated international naval support to the Gulf of Guinea. Although the vessel will be deployed under Danish command, the Danish intent is to coordinate their contribution with allies and partners in the region. Moreover, it is yet to be clarified under what legal mechanism pirates will be prosecuted if intercepted by the frigate. Nigeria is currently one of only a few regional states with the requisite counter-piracy legislation under which perpetrators of such incidents could be prosecuted successfully.




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