By Captain Saio S. Marrah (Rtd) Expert in International Relations and Security Studies
The Government of Sierra Leone must enact anti-piracy laws to ensure that pirates pay for their actions. I say this because, many people are of the conviction that as far as the legal process is concerned, it is a fallacy that pirates are not prosecuted or imprisoned. At present, there are over 1000 Somali pirates held in custody in over 20 countries, including three key pirate leaders and financiers. Quite recently, another 11 pirates were sentenced in the Seychelles to 10 years imprisonment.What is frustrating in the struggle against piracy is to detain pirates and not be able to prosecute them. To avoid wide spread pirate activities in Sierra Leone in particular and West Africa in general, we must put modalities in place to detain, prosecute and imprison (pirates) ideally where the crime is committed. I’m convinced this is what regional partners want too.Where there is evidence, and therefore the possibility of conviction, the full force of the law must be executed. This is imperative because, we do not want any “catch and release situations” in Sierra Leone – hence this will lead to impunity and impunity¬†¬†as we all know undermines the Rule of Law and capacitate criminals in a phenomenal manner.
To this end, the Government of Sierra Leone should undertake ground breaking project work on prisons, prosecutions and transfer agreements in conjunction with International Law and cooperation between and amongst states. Why is this significant? This is important for many fundamental reasons but for the purpose of this piece; I will limit it to the peripheral rationale. First of all, piracy even when committed in the Territorial Waters of Sierra Leone still has an international flavour. Also piracy is never an isolated issue – hence pirates deal with weapons, drugs, money laundering and kidnapping. Moreover, let’s say our Naval Force pursue pirates and finally arrest them beyond our territorial waters, under what laws do we try them? Do we try them under Domestic Law or International Law?
“Finally, if they are tried and convicted, they must be taken to prison. Question‚Ä¶‚Ä¶is our Maximum Security Prisons really up to international standards to incarcerate such criminals? When I approached the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs – Hon. Minister Sheka Tarawally about this sensitive security issues (particularly the one on the Maximum Security Prisons), he was upbeat that transforming the prisons is part of the President Koroma’s Agenda for prosperity. He concluded in a subtle tone, “the prisons will be rehabilitated and presented as a Reforming center – because prisons are not meant to Deform people but rather the contrary”.¬†
Having said that, the rise in piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is engulfed with serious implications for oil-producing countries. Countries along the Gulf of Guinea produce more than 4.7 million barrels of oil per day, with the majority of production coming from Nigeria (2.2 million bpd) and Angola (1.7 million bpd), whiles Ghana’s Jubilee Field is projected to produce 120,000 bpd by the beginning of 2012 and Sierra Leone is set to join the team of rich guys.
For now security analysts don’t anticipate piracy in West Africa will deter investment; rather it will raise the cost of doing business, as companies put measures in place to deter pirates. In fact, the negative effects of piracy on both regional trade and the oil industry will most likely not be felt by businesses at all, but rather are borne by the countries of West Africa and their citizens. To underscore the above argument, it is highly likely that when the cost of shipping consumer hikes for traders, these price spikes is passed on to the public. Consequently, any oil that gets stolen and resold on the black market is obviously not taxed, hence representing lost revenue for the state.
African countries themselves lack the resources to contribute to such an effort. They do not have the money and the hardware to run adequate surveillance at sea. Oil-rich Nigeria for instance, in whose waters most piracy in West Africa occurs, and which appears to have the best navy in the region is also not free from the fangs and venom of pirates.¬†Security analysts and military experts have argued that Nigeria’s Navy is ill-equipped and underfunded-leaving the sea vulnerable to the pirates.
South Africa¬†is in a stronger position, and its air force patrols the coast daily. But air patrols can easily miss a ship or the speedboats favoured by pirates.Moreover, South Africa does not have a satellite-based security system, which could monitor ships passing within 1500km of the coast. Judging from such analytical approach, it could be argued that one cannot rely on regional solutions (alone) to solve piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.
To this end, the US and European countries are working with African navies to enhance their capacities and engage in joint policing in the Gulf of Guinea.Nevertheless, critics have maintained that such partnerships are partly driven by the West’s strategic interest in oil exporting from the region. The recent use of West African waters by traffickers of cocaine is another significant reason for the West to partner with African leaders – hence they don’t want Europe to be flooded with drugs. Finally, Human Right analysts and activists have also posited that, as most West Africans are using the sea as a means to reach the shores of Europe, the West have therefore thought it deem fitting to strengthen African navies so as to deter immigrants from entering Europe. Therefore, one can arguably conclude that the Western powers are more interested in combating migration, facilitating oil export and fighting drug trafficking rather than tackling piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.
To conclude, let me offer few Maritime Security and Intelligence recommendations for “public consumption”. To be effective against pirates, 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 longer periods.
1.¬†Try and identify the enemy by utilising thorough Intelligence¬†network¬†¬†- knowing who the pirates are, locating their likely¬†operational area and the new tactics they are most likely to adopt.
2.¬†Closely monitor situations in Somalia and draw similarities to¬†help us stay a step ahead of the pirates.
3.¬†Implement innovative Security and Intelligence measures to¬†prevent against wider Maritime Crimes such drug trafficking,arms smuggling, kidnapping and human trafficking.
4. Be well informed about pirate activities and use such intelligence¬†to shape our security strategy.
5.¬†Study how neighbouring countries and the International¬†Maritime Bureau are responding to pirate threat and draw up¬†a flexible but responsive approach to tackle this menace.