ECOWAS accesses EU naval experience

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The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) tapped into the experience of the European Union (EU) naval forces to “suppress illicit maritime activities” off the West African coast.

EU naval forces are active in the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean Sea with mandates to protect shipments of humanitarian aid, including food; seek out and confiscate drugs and other illegal acts, such as human trafficking and enforce a United Nations (UN) embargo on arms and weapon shipping to Libya.

This range of experience saw EU NavFor headquarters legal advisor, Major Rodrigo Lorenzo, invited to be present at a UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) meeting in Lagos, Nigeria. The meeting was set up to discuss a draft of an Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) supplementary act to rein in illegal maritime activities.

The draft, an EU NavFor Operation Atalanta statement said, is an “over-arching effort” to tackle drug trafficking, human trafficking and weapons smuggling, among others, by way of law enforcement co-operation and ECOWAS member states combined operations.

Lorenzo provided attendees with an insight into legal issues related to maritime interdiction operations (MIO) from the perspective of Operation Atalanta’s experience in East Africa. Matters discussed ranged from using force and rules of engagement in MIOs to jurisdictional issues, boarding of suspect vessel procedures and exchanging information.

The draft was officially agreed too and submitted for further discussion, approval and implementation at executive level of the regional bloc.