During April 2010, African experts on maritime security and safety gathered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to share information on maritime security and safety among AU Member states and with partners to consider the African Integrated Maritime Strategy (AIM-Strategy). Experts addressed threats and vulnerabilities such as natural disasters and environmental degradation, environmental crimes, illegal fishing, oil bunkering, money laundering, illegal arms and drug trafficking, human trafficking, maritime terrorism and piracy and armed robbery.
In her opening remarks, Mrs Elham Ibrahim, AU Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, recalled that “for years African states have been mostly concerned by the declining capacity of their maritime industry”. However, recently, the growing menace of unlawful activities on African waters and the rapid escalation of piracy activities off the coast of Somalia and the Gulf of Guinea has meant that more attention be also given to matters of maritime security. It also served as a “wake-up call to the leadership in Africa to take concrete action to rid the continent of these scourges which are undermining economic activity and the image of the continent”.
However, the African Union and indeed most of its member states are not known for taking "action" on any particular issue. Whether it is deciding on the threats caused by foreign fisheries access agreements, implementation of port state measures to curb illegal fishing, dealing with piracy off Somalia or implementing the Abidjan Convention which aims at protecting west African coastal and fisheries resources, African states are very short on action.
And now the impacts are being directly felt. For example, much needed foreign investment in capital and skill intensive fisheries like tuna longlining is being lost to more favourable and less risky waters such as the Pacific. Mozambique, South Africa and Angola have been trying for months to attract foreign vessel owners to invest (in partnership with locals) in their respective tuna long line fisheries but with almost no luck. Most of the offers have been spurned and where the handful of boat owners have allocated 2 or 3 vessels to these waters, the vessels fished for a season or less and then promptly left.
The east coast of Africa is increasingly being viewed as too risky to deploy any high seas fishing vessels, which will increasingly threaten the very existence of Mauritius' and Seychelles' respective tuna industries. The rapidly growing and expanding acts of piracy along this coast will soon render much of commercial fishing too risky. Most Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese boat owners have already indicated that a combination of very poor catch rates and a high risk of piracy in Mozambique waters (and adjacent High Seas) have underpinned their decisions to not invest in Mozambique's tuna long line fishery in 2010.
In addition, Mozambique is just one of 16 African states which is subject to an EU "Partnership" agreement. In terms of its EU agreement (valid until December 2011), Mozambique has agreed to allow 89 EU vessels access to its tuna resources for a measly total of E900 000 per year. By comparison, South Africa has determined that its waters can only sustainably support 30 tuna long liners and even this number is too high as many right holders simply do not activate their quotas as the catching costs far outstrip income.
Despite years of growing piracy and its clear adverse impact on African trade in general and sustainable commercial fisheries exploitation, Africa is yet to confirm any policy or decisive strategy to guide any form of AU intervention, whether political, diplomatic, military or a combination. South Africa as the only member state with the theoretical resources to deploy - albeit only a symbolic - presence in Somali waters with its (white elephant) state of the art corvettes and submarines has repeatedly failed to even commit its policy position with respect to providing an "African solution" to this particular "African problem".
Whether the AIM Strategy results in any form of proactive policy development and implementation remains to be seen. It is much safer though to no hold your breath.