Africa: Cabinda to Cape City – How Crime-Proof Are Africa’s Atlantic Shores?

With all eyes on pirates and politics within the Gulf of Guinea and the Indian Ocean, who’s maintaining a tally of Africa’s South Atlantic?

The Atlantic Ocean, divided into North and South, has traditionally been central to transoceanic relations, particularly international commerce. At this time, the Atlantic’s pure assets and strategic location connecting Africa, Europe, and the Americas proceed to facilitate the transport and sourcing of products – each authorized and unlawful.

The felony economies of the Atlantic date again a number of centuries to when pirates and slave merchants scoured the seas. As a result of most of this exercise was concentrated within the North Atlantic, little is thought concerning the historic growth of felony economies within the South Atlantic. This persists at present as assaults on vessels within the Gulf of Guinea and cocaine trafficking from South America focus the worldwide group’s consideration firmly on Africa’s North Atlantic coast.

Extra not too long ago, resurgent piracy and Houthi assaults on vessels within the Western Indian Ocean have additionally refocused consciousness there. These occasions, amongst different causes, have arguably triggered the South Atlantic to obtain solely fragmented consideration.

Chart 1: Map of the Atlantic Ocean Supply: Worldwide Institute for Legislation of the Sea Research (IILSS)

Southern Africa’s Atlantic shoreline is a treasure trove of distinctive biodiversity and pure assets, together with fish, oil and diamonds. It sustains coastal communities and is essential to world commerce. A number of ports create important maritime commerce corridors for inland neighbours.

However as African international locations and international pursuits search to unlock the complete potential of the ocean economic system, they’re contending with criminals equally competing for this geostrategic ocean area. These actors equally profit from elevated maritime commerce and technological developments that make vessels larger, quicker and capable of journey longer distances.

A big risk dealing with all Atlantic African states is fisheries crime, starting from unlawful, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing to high-level corruption. Within the South Atlantic, such examples abound as a lot as fish shares as soon as did.

In Namibia, high-ranking authorities officers benefitted from awarding fishing quotas to an Icelandic firm at the price of native firms and their staff. Namibia reportedly loses round US$80 million yearly to unlawful fishing, together with by vessels licensed to function in Angola’s waters. Angola itself experiences unlawful fishing by international fleets and was flagged by the US (US) in 2023 as a consequence of potential IUU fishing exercise.

Owing to its wealthy offshore oil deposits, Angola is one among Africa’s largest oil producers. This has led to vessel assaults in Northern Angola and cross-border gasoline smuggling to Namibia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Oil and gasoline deposits have been additionally not too long ago found off Namibia’s coast, which is already mined for diamonds. Such profitable spoils sometimes entice each huge multinational firms and transnational felony networks.

The United Nations’ World Report on Cocaine 2023 highlights Southern Africa’s more and more necessary function within the South American cocaine commerce. Though Southern African international locations primarily function transit states, home cocaine consumption has elevated as better portions transfer by the area. The report notes elevated maritime trafficking to and from South Africa, a long-favoured transit node for cocaine shipments, the place file quantities of cocaine have been seized in recent times.

Though maritime cocaine seizures in Namibia have been minor, the report warns of its vulnerability to drug traffickers as a consequence of its location. It additionally notes the historic connection between Brazilian drug networks and Lusophone Angola.

Chart 2: Cocaine trafficking routes affecting Southern and Jap Africa, 2018-2022 Supply: United Nations Workplace on Medication and Crime World Report on Cocaine 2023

These examples illustrate that South Atlantic African littoral states are exploited as a passage for vessels engaged in quite a few transnational unlawful actions offshore, in ports and on the littoral. So, how is the area safeguarding its shores?

Southern Africa, like a lot of the continent, has restricted capability to cowl its massive coastal waters and should take care of felony networks traversing sovereign maritime borders and the excessive seas, drifting between jurisdictions. Due to this fact, sharing capacities and knowledge to collectively safeguard its shores is non-negotiable.

However, not like the Indian Ocean Rim Affiliation, no Pan-Atlantic initiative efficiently engages all Atlantic littoral states on safety issues. There are cooperative regional agreements, however these are sometimes restricted in scope. For instance, South Africa and Angola are respectively signatories to the Djibouti and Yaoundé Codes of Conduct. Each codes have been born from the necessity for cooperative counter-piracy efforts, however in addition they lengthen to different maritime crimes. Namibia is not a celebration to both, so it falls exterior these codes’ structure.

Namibia, Angola and South Africa represent the Benguela Present Conference, however its focus is restricted to conservation and sustainable useful resource use within the Benguela Present Giant Marine Ecosystem. All three international locations are events to the Zone of Peace and Cooperation of the South Atlantic (ZOPACAS) – whose members met for the primary time in a decade final yr to attempt to revive it.

Not too long ago, Angola joined the US-driven Partnership for Atlantic Cooperation, which incorporates 36 Atlantic states. However just like the Benguela Present Conference and ZOPACAS, the Partnership’s main goals are at greatest not directly associated to safety. As an alternative, it focuses on financial growth, environmental safety, science, and expertise.

Whereas these are important for safety, safety can be obligatory for growth. That is encompassed within the Southern African Growth Group’s (SADC) Built-in Maritime Safety Technique, which might additionally present a framework for cooperation. However, says ISS Maritime Undertaking Chief Tim Walker, the technique wants renewed SADC engagement to make sure ‘reinvigorated implementation.’ There’s additionally the not too long ago established Atlantic African States Course of, however as it’s advert hoc, high-level conferences are unlikely to lead to tangible cooperation at sea.