Maritime security has become a more important issue in West African region in recent times where attacks on ships and crew jumped at an alarming level last year, despite the COVID-19 pandemic – which will be addressed by the 15 Chiefs of Navies and Air Forces along with 300 senior officials attending the 2nd International Maritime Defence Exhibition and Conference that takes place from 6-8 July, 2020 at Kempinski Hotel in Accra, Ghana.
International Maritime Defence Exhibition and Conference (IMDEC) is the largest maritime security exhibition and conference in West Africa. Held in partnership with Ghana Navy and Ghana Air Force, the IMDEC will be graced by the participation of key government leaders including H.E. Vice President of Ghana Alhaji Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia.
The Gulf of Guinea is a vast and diverse region stretching from Senegal to Angola, covering 6,000 kilometres of coastline. It is an important shipping zone transporting oil and gas, as well as goods to and from central and southern Africa. Around 1,500 fishing vessels, tankers, and cargo ships navigate its waters at any given day. Piracy, armed robbery at sea, kidnapping of seafarers, illegal fishing, smuggling and trafficking, and transnational organised crime pose a major threat to maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea and ultimately to the economic development of the entire region.
The Gulf of Guinea saw 84 attacks on ships, with 135 seafarers kidnaped for ransom in 2020, according to the International Maritime Bureau, nearly 50 percent increase in kidnapping for ransom between 2018 and 2019, and around 10 percent increase between 2019 and 2020. The region now accounts for just over 95 percent of all kidnappings for ransom at sea. The Covid-19 pandemic brought about increased economic hardship resulting in emboldened reliance on illicit, yet lucrative, activities.
A 2020 report published by Africa Risk Compliance, issued about piracy attacks, revealed that a total of 147 vessels were attacked in 2020. The report stated some other alarming figures, noting 149 members of the crew were kidnapped with 27 kidnapped for ransom.
In response, regional Armed Forces are acquiring resources and combining capabilities to effectively address these threats at the 2nd IMDEC, taking place in Ghana. The three-day conference and exhibition including exclusive site visit will see senior officials discuss and address how to continue tackling the issues of securing the increasingly volatile maritime threats facing Africa’s territorial waters.
Commenting on organising IMDEC, the newly appointed Rear Admiral Issah Adam Yakubu, Chief of Naval Staff, Ghana Navy, said, “It is troubling to know that 95 percent of all kidnappings at sea in 2020 occurred in the Gulf of Guinea. Regrettably, the actual and attempted attacks in the region also increased by 34 percent from the 2019 figure of 59 – 79 in the year 2020 despite the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on all of us.”
Rear Admiral Issah Adam Yakubu continued “These statistics call for urgent and concerted efforts to deal with this menace and that is why I Rear Admiral Issah Adam Yakub, Chief of the Naval Staff of Ghana is inviting my colleague chiefs of Navy chiefs of Navies and coastguards, other law enforcement agencies, experts, industry and all other stakeholders in the maritime domain to meet in Accra from the 6 – 8 July, 2021, to develop under the theme maritime security and trade the nexus between a secure maritime domain in a developed blue economy.
“I am hopeful that by the end of this conference we can collectively find innovative ways to curb the rise of criminal activities in the Gulf of Guinea for the benefit of our nations and the people who trade and derive their livelihoods from the sea. Great Minds Event Management and my team hear in Ghana will ensure strict adherence to all Covid protocols to ensure the safety of all.”
The 2nd edition of IMDEC will also welcome greater participation from regional Air Forces, as the Ghana Air Force will be an official event partner to highlight the significance of air-maritime cooperation.
Organised by Great Minds Event Management, a global strategic events management organisation that closely works with governments, IMDEC will address key defence and maritime security issues, showcase new technology for the defence sector where multi-million dollars’ worth of deals would be negotiated. Participating companies will be demonstrating their best products and services that could equip the naval and air forces and enhance their defence capabilities at sea. A snapshot of some of the companies confirmed to participate include Paramount, Israel Shipyards Ltd, Israel Aerospace Industries, MBDA and Airbus and will all be showcasing their latest technologies and services throughout the two-day exhibition.
Commenting on their participation in this edition, AVM Frank Hanson, Chief of The Air Staff, Ghana, said, “For several years the maritime space remains one of the most vital components of our national security and with a coastline of 550 kilometres and an exclusive economic zone of 200 miles, Ghana’s maritime space accounts for more than 80 percent of Ghana’s GDP and that impacts positively on our neighbours in the region. The proximity of the Gulf of Guinea to Europe and North America for the transportation of low oil further raises its importance in the global supply of energy.
“As you’re aware, more than 5.4 million barrels of crude oil is produced from the Gulf of Guinea each year. In recent years it has also become very clear that the force behind maritime security is air power, certainly it is air power that is very smart, flexible and responsible to provide reach for surface forces to dominate the maritime domain.”
AVM Frank Hanson continues “It is therefore not surprising that the key highlights of IMDEC 2021 will feature, for the first time, the role of air power in maritime operations. The strategic objectives of the Ghana Air Force are to redefine the national maritime capability as an economic multiplier to national and sub regional development. This capability is to connect the maritime domain to strategic economic centers of our sub region. I therefore wish to encourage our neighbors to take advantage of IMDEC 2021.
“The Ghana Air Force works very closely with the Ghana Navy and other international partners to develop an integrated maritime and air operations to cover our territorial waters,” he concluded.
Investment in African Port Security Infrastructure
Due to the increased security breach onshore, governments of African countries are now focusing on upgrading the ports and maritime infrastructure and security to combat incidents and strengthen the security of commodities – food, energy and other products that are crucial for the rest of the world.
Port development received extensive consideration from governments, with most of the 38 African nations with a coastline having a port development project under way. Despite the pandemic, most of these projects were still in operation, although logistical support was hindered by lockdowns.
By 2020, the African port sector had collectively attracted $50 billion in public and private investments. This has heralded an emergence of world-class ports in Africa spread out in Morocco, South Africa and Egypt. Tangier Med Port was ranked at position 35 in this year’s Lloyd’s List report on the world’s busiest seaports, rubbing shoulders with renowned ports from developed nations such as the UK and USA.
These investments offer massive business opportunities for contractors, suppliers and technology providers who could get a slice of the defence and maritime spending by participating at the IMDEC.
The three-day IMDEC conference and exhibition will also feature exclusive tours of Ghana’s Air and Naval bases and will consist of in-depth walk throughs of the naval dockyard and air base as well as private vessel tours to further display the advanced capabilities of Ghana’s Naval and Air Force fleet.
The latest Chiefs of Naval Staff and VIPs to confirm their attendance as guests and speakers at IMDEC include Rear Admiral Nguessan Kouame, Chief of Naval Staff, Cote d’Ivoire Navy, Vice Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo, Chief of Naval Staff, Nigeria Navy, Rear Admiral Oumar Wade, Chief of Naval Staff, Senegalese Navy, Rear Admiral Jean Mendoua, Chief of Naval Staff, Cameroon Navy. Rear Admiral Carlos Alfredo Mandungal Chief of Naval Staff, Guinea Bissau Navy, , Rear Admiral Jeffrey S. Spivey, Vice Commander, U.S. Sixth Fleet, Royal Navy, Rear Admiral Ben Reynolds, Director of Maritime Headquarters U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa / U.S. 6th Fleet, Captain Pedro Santana, Commander of the Coast Guard, Cape Verde, Captain Philip Juana, Commander, Sierra Leone Navy and Dr. Dieng Abdourahmane (Rtd.Col.), Head Regional Security Division, ECOWAS Commission.