The African Union has ignored the resolutions of the two previous Sea Power for Africa symposia, held in 2005 and 2006, and has yet to discuss maritime security in any detail.
This emerged at the 3rd Sea Power for Africa symposium, underway in Cape Town where an AU official asked the representatives of 31 African states as well as 16 international navies help it craft a plan to deal with the challenges that include the disruption of sea lines of communication; the illegal exploitation of resources; pollution and dumping; human and drug trafficking as well as other organised crime, including sea piracy; terrorism and natural disasters.
The symposium is taking place at a time that 23 countries – none of them African – have pledged or deployed ships to patrol the Gulf of Aden and adjacent waters, where well over a hundred incidents of piracy were reported last year.
Pirates, mostly operating from lawless Somalia, Somaliland and Puntland, hijacked ships and extracted millions of US dollars as ransom from ship owners. In addition, hundreds of sailors were taken hostage and several murdered, with scores injured in pirate attacks that have also pushed up maritime insurance premiums and forced ships to round the Cape to Europe or Asia rather than use the Suez Canal and Red Sea. This has, in turn, pushed up consumer prices, also in Africa.
South African defence minister Charles Nqakula says the lack of an African response is indeed problematic. “Of course that worries us. We do need to deal with organised crime in all manners that present itself, including that from the sea, and including sea piracy.”
Nqakula adds that he expects the AU to address the problem in the near future. “I`m sure it will be discussed at the next meeting of the AU – I`m not sure when that is – but I`m sure it will be discussed.