Africa must better protect its waters as it faces piracy on an ever-larger scale, illegal fishing and the dumping of toxic waste, a regional meeting on maritime security heard Thursday.
"Africa is surrounded by water, 38 African Union member states (out of 53) are islands or on the coast. Seas or oceans that are not secure are potential havens for criminal activities," Bright Mando, an AU jurist, told a two-day meeting in the Ethiopian capital.
"African countries should cooperate and coordinate their efforts on maritime security. We need to act now," he added.
Many countries do not have the means to watch or defend their coasts and have become a haven for pirates, for illegal fishing, for toxic waste dumping and in some cases for the trafficking of drugs and people.
Greenpeace recently undertook a one-month study in the waters between Morocco and Gambia and found 130 vessels, most of which were illegally trawling, the environmental group's Africa director Michelle Ntab told AFP.
"This type of illegal fishing is a threat to marine bio-diversity, particularly in west Africa where the majority of the population relies on fish," she said.
"If a traditional fisherman has difficulty in reaching his daily quota he will go in search of other resources ... Moreover there will be fewer fish on sale in the region's markets and therefore a food security problem that will impact the dynamics of immigration," she continued.
Numerous experts at this week's AU meeting on maritime security cited Somalia, which has seen a huge rise in piracy due to the chaos in the country since 1991.
Somalia is also a textbook case for maritime security, since it has suffered from the dumping of toxic waste as well as illegal fishing, which leaves fewer fish for local fisherman, who then turn to piracy.
"Piracy can only be addressed in a comprehensive manner. Pirates are not coming from the sea, but from the land," El-Ghassim Wane, the AU's peace and security director said.
"Restoring the TFG's authority (that of Somalia's transitional government, which has a foothold in the capital Mogadishu) is important but we also need to address social issues," he said.
"That is why the international community should do more to fight illegal fishing and waste dumping off the coasts of Somalia," Wane added.
When the conference opened Tuesday, Somali Deputy Prime Minister Abdulrahman Adan Ibrahim Ibbi called for outside help to clear toxic waste dumped illegally on his country's vast coastline, arguing that the fight against dumping goes hand in hand with the fight against piracy.
In the past, various reports have noted toxic or radioactive waste dumped off the Somali coast by foreign companies taking advantage of the Horn of Africa nation's anarchic state of clan warfare.
The Trafigura scandal in Ivory Coast demonstrated the limits of legal action in such cases even when there is a government in place.
That case stems from the August 2006 dumping of toxic waste from the Trafigura-chartered ship, the Probo Koala, on public rubbish tips around the Ivorian economic capital, Abidjan. The ship had earlier attempted to offload the waste in Amsterdam.
Trafigura agreed in February 2007 to pay out a total of one hundred billion CFA francs (152 million euros, 225 million dollars) in damages, in an out of court settlement, but it disclaimed responsibility for the dumping.
A deal was reached last February to unblock a further payment of 33 million euros in compensation to 31,000 victims of the disaster.Reuse content