To ensure enhanced safety and security in the maritime domain of Zone E through operational patrols and sustained force presence at the sea, Nigeria, Benin, Togo, and Niger have activated a joint maritime, air surveillance and intervention on the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) waters.
Themed “Enhancing Maritime Security Through Collaboration for Regional Prosperity”, the joint task force codenamed ‘Operation Safe Domain 11’, flagged off at Cotonou Port Naval Base, Republic of Benin, last Monday, and involved vessels from participating nations with Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Aba, commanded by Commander Samson Fiyai.
The three vessels from Nigeria, Benin Republic, and Togo, alongside the aircraft provided by Nigeria, are to patrol and monitor the total water area of 105,746 square nautical miles (sqnm) during the five-day operation.
The operation was targeted at tackling piracy and other maritime crimes, all within the framework of policing duties at sea so as to deny pirates and other maritime criminals’ freedom of action that otherwise thrive on the Zone E flank of the GoG waters.
These security challenges often undermine the economic development of the zone while endangering the livelihood of local coastal communities and seafarers in general.
Speaking at the inauguration recently, the Director of Multinational Maritime Coordination Centre (MMCC) Zone E, Commodore Aniedi Ibok, said the operation was in furtherance of the implementation of the MOU on Joint Maritime Operations and Patrols (JMOP) agreed upon by the countries involved.
According to the director, the objectives of the patrols and joint operations was to pool resources of the states parties; make the maritime resources interoperable; evaluate the Standard Operational Procedures (SOPs); and operationalise the right of hot pursuit as defined by the rules of engagement and multilateral and bilateral memoranda; and finally, secure the maritime area of the ‘Maritime Zone E’.
He stressed that the adopted strategy comprised research and exchange of information, adding that this was to ensure enhanced safety and security in the maritime domain of zone E through operational patrols and sustained force presence at sea.
He also noted that it would strengthen cooperation amongst Zone E countries’ navies and other maritime actors through capacity building in maritime law enforcement operations, intelligence sharing and technical assistance amongst others while laying the foundation for further joint/combined operations.
Wholly sponsored by ECOWAS and Member States of Zone E, the operation was based on the successes recorded by the pilot exercise carried out in November 2021.
According to Ibok, some of the successes recorded from Operation Safe Domain 1 were the improvement of obtaining and sharing daily and weekly intelligence reports among member states, maritime stakeholders, and partners in the zone.
“The successful arrest and trial of pirates onboard a Chinese fishing vessel, FV HAILUFENG 11 and vessels of interest such as STI SOHO.
“The operation also led to foiling the attacks and setting free TOMMI RITSCHER and MAXIMUS with their crew,” he added.
The Benin Chief of Defence Staff, Brigadier General Fructueux Gbaguidi, who was the special guest of honour and who flagged off the operation, said the operation was germane because the country had been facing piracy issues on its waters.
He said that was one of the reasons why all four nations came together to form a formidable force against piracy and maritime crimes, adding that, “the collaboration of these countries led to the establishment of ‘Op Safe Domain I’ in 2021 and the success of the operation has led to ‘Op Safe Domain II’ in 2023.
“This has made it possible for us to realise the objectives of securing our waters and checkmating the activities of pirates and sea crime in our maritime domain.”
Also speaking, the Benin Republic Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Captain Jean Le’on Olatoundji, stressed that only collaboration of countries could help improve the fight against the disastrous activities of piracy, adding that‘Op Safe Domain II’ demonstrated the member countries’ common will to face up to the threat in the maritime domain and piracy in the zone.
Noting that the issue of sea blindness was gradually being eradicated, the Director, Regional Maritime Security Coordination Centre, West Africa, Commodore Richard Shammah, said countries were now becoming more aware of the great economic importance of what the sea offers to their various economies.
He said: “So, for us to have economic prosperity at sea, we must have a safe and secured Maritime domain.
“This operation is necessary so that we can have a sea line of communication and trade and no one country can do it alone, hence the collaborative effort.”
After the flag off, the CO of NNS Aba, Commander Fiyai said the operation would afford all participating nations to be familiar with each other’s operating procedure, which will ensure a more effective and seamless patrol.