By Kofi Ampeah-Woode, Accra

The Ghana Navy (GN) has commenced the two-day 2ND International Maritime Defence and Exhibition Conference 2021 (IMDEC ’21), with an assemblage of a wide array of Chiefs of Navies and Air Forces from across the world, distinguished Admirals and Generals, maritime experts, exhibitors and solutions providers, to proffer solutions to the challenges posed to trade along the Gulf of Guinea (GoG).

IMDEC ’21, which is a collaboration between the GN, the Ghana Air Force and Great Minds Events, Dubai, opened on Wednesday, June 7th, 2021, at the Kempinski Gold Coast Hotel, Accra, under the theme; “Maritime Security and Trade: the Nexus between a Secure Maritime Domain and a Developed Blue Economy”, and had the Vice President of the Republic of Ghana – His Excellency (HE) Alhaji Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, as the Guest of Honour.

HE Dr. Bawumia stated that, as nations seek to readjust and realign themselves in development and economic growth, post COVID-19, coastal states and even land-locked countries have a huge stake in dealing with matters governing maritime security, for whatever measures and strategies put in place to revive economies, would largely depend on trade. 

The Vice President further stated that the maritime sector is the pillar of Ghana’s economy, as the ports serve as the gateway for over 80 percent of international trade, with the offshore oil and gas sector, with its associated industries, contributing significantly to the nations’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP), as the fishing industry employs about 10% of the populace and accounts for up to 60% of the protein intake of Ghanaians.

Dr. Bawumia averred that protecting the maritime domain of Ghana is, therefore a fundamental agenda for the country, for all countries in the Gulf of Guinea, for the 39 other coastal African states, and indeed the rest of the world and a matter of urgency.

Equipping the Ghana Navy

The VEEP said that the government of Ghana is acquiring Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs), Fast Patrol Boats and Crafts, making funds available for the timely completion of the Forward Operating Base at Ezinlibo and that there are plans to establish similar bases on the country’s coastal frontiers. 

The government of Ghana is to endorse a comprehensive National Integrated Maritime Strategy (NIMS), that will enhance interagency cooperation and thereby boost the collaboration among Land, Sea and Air Forces and key stakeholders in the country, as the sea is the super highway for global trade and that Africa’s quest for a Continental Free Trade Area, cannot be successful without a secured maritime domain, HE Dr. Bawumia summed up.

In a welcome speech, Rear Admiral (R/Adm) Issah Adam Yakubu – The Chief of the Naval Staff, GN, said the conference has come a long way since 2014, which had about 50 participants and less than 10 exhibitors, to now attendees from over 70 countries, including 15 Chiefs of Navies and Air Forces, 300 participants, 40 exhibitors and sponsors as well as over 30 speakers, becoming arguably, the largest gathering of Africa’s maritime industry.

R/Adm Yakubu added that, concerned institutions of the GoG cannot afford to slow down their operations because of the Pandemic, since the criminals have not done so, but have rather increased the tempo of their operations during the period.

IMDEC ’21, which rolls out in keynote speeches, panel discussions, breakout sessions, presentations by various industry players and social events, on Day-1, focused on maritime subjects, whilst the next day would largely be devoted to maritime air operations. Additionally, there is a scheduled meeting of chiefs of navies, coast guards and air forces or their representatives, to deliberate on the way forward to deal with common maritime threats.

More than 90 percent of international merchandise is moved by sea.

Reports along the Gulf of Guinea in recent times signal a surge in attacks by Pirate Action Groups (PAGs) with most incidents occurring along the coasts of Cameroon, Nigeria, Benin, and Ghana.

Other reports indicate a total of 79 actual and attempted attacks were carried out in 2020, representing a 34% increase as compared to 59 attacks recorded in 2019, and in 22 separate attacks recorded in 2020, 130 out of 135 persons kidnapped globally, were reportedly abducted in the GoG alone, representing 95% percent of all kidnapping cases, with Nigeria recording 62, Benin 29 and Ghana 6.

In the past two months, about 10 crew members of two Ghanaian-flagged fishing vessels have been abducted in separate incidents along the GoG, whilst the first half of the year has witnessed greater piracy threat and activities with over 30 recorded incidents, which have led to some renowned maritime security institutions, issuing warning notice to all vessels plying the GoG.

Additionally, criminals at sea are evading counter-piracy measures, as PAGs have increased their operational range, while the spread of attacks has also changed from the primary enclave in the Niger-Delta, extending both westwards and south-eastwards, to the whole of the GoG region.

It is reported that the network, which sustains this module of piracy, is larger than the traditional case of piracy of cargo stealing, for this network now involves negotiators, intermediaries, facilitators and racketeers, as well as individuals acting in official or professional capacities; such as insurance and risk analysts, professional negotiators and security companies.

Dignitaries present at IMDEC ’21 Day-1 included Ghana’s Minister for Defence – Dominic Aduna Bingab Nitiwul, Chief of the Defence Staff, Ghana Armed Forces (GAF) – Vice Admiral Seth Amoama, Nigeria’s Chief of the Naval Staff – Vice Admiral Awal Zuberu Gambo, GAF’s Chief of the Army Staff – Major General Thomas Oppong-Peprah, GAF’s Chief of the Air Staff – Air Vice Marshal Frank Hanson, amongst many.

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