BY GABRIEL OKECHUKWU, PORT HARCOURT
President Muhammadu Buhari has enjoined African countries to form stronger alliances against piracy, crude oil theft, trafficking in persons and other maritime crimes within the Gulf of Guinea and the entire continent.
President Buhari who made the call while declaring open International Maritime Conference and Regional Maritime Exercise at Federal Ocean Terminal Onne Rivers State, as part of the activities marking the sixty Six Anniversary of Nigerian Navy, noted that Maritime insecurity is a threat to economic growth of African countries.
Participants at the International Maritime Conference with the theme, Optimizing International Collaboration for Maritime Security and Sustainable Socio-economic Development in Africaare drawn from African Countries, the European Union and the US Coast Guard.
The International Conference which was part of the activities marking the Sixty Six Anniversary of Nigerian Navy was aimed at fostering synergy among International Navies across the globe to ensure safety of the maritime environment.
While Delivering the Key note address at the Conference, President Muhammadu Buhari stressed the need for strategic collaboration among regional and international stakeholders in the maritime domain.
President Buhari who was represented by the Minister of Defence, Major General Bashir Magashi retired, told participants at the conference to come up with actionable strategies that will guarantee adequate policing of the blue economy.
Earlier on, the Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabo who flagged off the Regional Maritime Exercise, Code named, EXERCISE EDI-DIANA, gave assurance of the determination of the present administration to build capacity among the armed forces through the acquisition of platforms that would boost their operations.
General Irabo acknowledged the commitment of Nigerian Navy towards a more secured maritime environment.
On his part, The Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo who emphasized the importance of collaborative efforts towards the eradication of Piracy, Illegal arms deal, narcotics and unregulated fishing, revealed that Exercise Edi-Diana will feature anti piracy operation, seamanship, man overboard and shooting exercise.
Vice Admiral Gambo expressed happiness that Nigeria has been delisted from piracy prone countries by International Maritime Bureau, a development he attributed to the gains of constant presence at sea by the Navy.
He maintained that no single Navy will be able to fight maritime crimes alone.
The Chief of the Naval Staff appreciated President Muhammadu Buhari for his support of Nigerian Navy which is evident in the provision of logistics to enhance Naval Operations.
The CNS said that about eight Ships, two Helicopters and Special Boat Services were deployed for the exercise alongside ships of participating countries.
The Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo said that the International Maritime conference would be able to fashion out means of tackling the myriad of challenges confronting the Gulf of Guinea.
In his contribution, the Representative of African Union from the Institute of Security Studies, Andrews Attah-Asamua decried the negligence of African security forces in tackling maritime crimes.
According to him, the negligence has caused Africa millions of Dollars since greater percentage of Commerce in Africa were done through the waters.
In the same vein, one of the speakers at the conference, Dr. Ifesinachi Okafor – Yarwood expressed displeasure over the problems unregulated fishing has caused in the blue economy.
Dr. Okafor -Yarwood noted that income generated by artisanal fishers within West Africa has declined for about forty percent in the last decade.
She observed that vulnerability of fishing folks and un-delineated maritime boundaries form part of the challenges of the maritime domain.
Dr. Okafor – Yarwood who proposed a separate ministry of fisheries in Nigeria, revealed that the policies guiding fishing activities in the country were put in place in 1992.
Apart from the Chiefs of Naval Staff of participating African countries, all Nigerian Service Chiefs and other maritime stakeholders were present at the occasion.