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L-R: Phillip J Heyl (Chief, Air and Maritime Branch, US Africa Command) and Commodore Obi Medani (Nigerian Navy)

Fighting Piracy and other transnational threats in West Africa - meeting report

On Tuesday, October 29, 2013, Global Directions had the pleasure of hosting Commodore Obi Medani of the Nigerian Navy and Philip J. Heyl of US Africa Command, both of whom delivered remarks on their experience combating piracy in West Africa and the challenges — and importance — of regional capacity building.

Commodore Medani highlighted, in particular, the difference between the reality and perceptions of the piracy situation in the region. According to Mr Medani, the media often mislabels averted incidents, as well as attacks in harbour or near land (in so-called brown water) as piracy.  As a result of these oversights, Nigeria has become known as home to unchecked piracy. According to the Commodore, however, the number of acts of piracy is much lower in reality and the Nigerian navy is expanding its efforts to address security challenges although they face serious equipment and resource shortages.

In his remarks, Mr Heyl addressed some of the challenges of fighting piracy that come with the lack of clearly defined sea borders across the West African coast. For example, Mr Heyl pointed to the fact that the muddled dividing lines of jurisdiction in African waters enable pirates to move quickly between state territories along the West African coast and simultaneously hamper maritime authorities’ abilities to capture and prosecute these same criminals. Mr Heyl also mentioned several ongoing US initiatives aimed at fostering cooperation between African nations to address these challenges, and concluded by noting that capacity-building among African navies is of paramount importance, but that we need to be aware that this is a long-term and non-linear process.

In the question-and-answer session that followed their formal remarks, both speakers engaged with the audience in discussion and, in answer to a variety of queries, emphasised the importance of regional cooperation, the great level of support received from the US to overcome these challenges, and the challenge of fighting piracy and other security challenges off the West African coast given a lack of resources and surveillance capabilities.

Photo: (L-R) Phillip J Heyl (Chief, Air & Maritime Branch, US Africa Command) and Commodore Obi Medani (Nigerian Navy)