The Role of Technology in Combating Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea: Assessing Current Efforts and Potential Innovations

Piracy and armed robbery at sea are serious threats to the security and development of the countries in the Gulf of Guinea, a coastal region that stretches from Senegal to Angola. The region is endowed with vast reserves of hydrocarbon, mineral and fisheries resources, and is also an important route for international commerce. However, for a long time, the countries in the Gulf of Guinea have not properly monitored and managed their maritime domain, allowing criminal networks to operate with impunity. According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), the region experienced the highest number of crew kidnappings ever recorded in 2020, with 130 crew members taken in 22 incidents. In 2019, there were 121 crew members kidnapped in 17 incidents.

In response to these challenges, the countries in the region have taken collective action to enhance their maritime security cooperation. In 2013, they signed the Yaoundé Code of Conduct, a declaration to work together and address the threats of piracy, armed robbery, illegal fishing, drug trafficking and toxic waste dumping. The Code of Conduct also established a maritime security architecture, known as the Yaoundé Architecture, which consists of various institutions and mechanisms to coordinate and share information on maritime activities. The Yaoundé Architecture has been supported by regional and international partners, such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the Gulf of Guinea Commission (GGC), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and several bilateral donors.

One of the key elements of the Yaoundé Architecture is the use of technology to improve the monitoring and management of the marine environment. Technology-driven tools, such as radar, satellite imagery, automatic identification systems (AIS), vessel monitoring systems (VMS), and integrated information systems, have been deployed to enhance the situational awareness and operational capacity of the national and regional authorities. These tools have enabled them to identify suspicious vessels, track their movements, verify their identity and activities, and respond to incidents more effectively. Technology has also facilitated information sharing among law enforcement agencies, as well as between civil and military actors.

The aim of this paper is to assess the role of technology in combating piracy and armed robbery at sea in the Gulf of Guinea, by examining the current efforts and potential innovations that can further strengthen the maritime security cooperation in the region. The paper is divided into four sections. The first section provides an overview of the main types and trends of piracy and armed robbery at sea in the Gulf of Guinea. The second section analyzes the existing technological tools and systems that are used by the countries in the region to monitor and manage their maritime domain. The third section discusses some of the challenges and gaps that limit the effectiveness and sustainability of these tools and systems. The fourth section proposes some recommendations on how to overcome these challenges and gaps, and how to leverage technology to enhance maritime security cooperation in the region.

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