Opinion

Fighting high seas crime priority to Horn of Africa

East African Women in Perspective

Monday April 30, 2018

By Anne Kiruku

East African News Agency, Arusha

Hopefully, a ministerial conference held recently in Mauritius, bringing together both regional and international organisations, will help to end the maritime crimes and insecurity that have bedeviled the Indian Ocean over the past century.

The high level crimes –especially along the six million-kilometre-square Western Indian Ocean – have terrorised business along the coastlines of Djibouti, Kenya, Tanzania and Somalia.

Recognising that the livelihoods of 37 per cent of the world’s population rely on the oceans, UN Sustainable Development Goal 14 seeks to protect coastal and marine resources and ensure that they remain a driver of economic development in the long term.

Rampant cases of illegal fishing, maritime trafficking of drugs, human trafficking, money laundering, terrorist risks, environmental crimes and marine pollution have overshadowed the economic and social benefits that the ocean could serve the four countries.

One key aspect lacking in the fight against maritime crime is the exchange of maritime information and coordination of operations at sea between the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) member states.

Hopefully, the member states will now enhance their collaboration to tackle maritime threats and crimes effectively.

According to UNESCO, land-based sources account for approximately 80 per cent of marine pollution, globally. Marine habitats worldwide are contaminated with man-made debris.

Some of the suspected Somali pirates hijacked an oil tanker in the Indian Ocean in 2012.

Excessive nutrients from sewage outfalls and agricultural runoff have contributed to the increasing incidence of low oxygen (hypoxic) areas known as dead zones, where most marine life cannot survive, resulting in the collapse of some ecosystems.

There are now close to 500 dead zones with a total global surface area of over 245,000 square km, roughly equivalent to the size of Uganda.

It is unfortunate that after man has polluted the air and the land, the oceans have not been spared. The rampant ocean pollution is costing the fishing and shipping industry millions of dollars.

Discarded plastic bags, which form a substantial quantity of ocean debris, get caught in boat propellers and cooling intakes, damaging the engines.

Still, loss of habitat and biodiversity is increasingly impairing the ocean’s capacity to provide food and other services.

The extinction of fish species has contributed to food insecurity across the world and could lead to starvation or under-nourishment.

Ghost fishing that occurs when discarded fishing nets entangle marine life indiscriminately, as they continue to float in the ocean, reduce fishers’ revenues from lost catch and as a result fuelling the vicious cycle of poverty in communities which rely on fishing as a source of livelihood.

With terrorism being one of world’s newest threats to security, the oceans have provided a secure hiding and planning place for the terrorist.

Tonnes of tar-like oil allegedly leaked from one of the vessels involved in a collision in the Indian Ocean in the past. PHOTOS | AGENCIES

And without tackling marine insecurity, the escalating threat of terrorism will only get worse.  Piracy off the Horn of Africa reached alarming rates in 2007-2008.

In response, international naval forces, authorised by a series of United Nations Security Council resolutions, were deployed to carry out counter-piracy patrols so as to secure a safe corridor for transiting vessels and to respond to piracy attacks or reports of suspicious activity on the high seas.

But even with such efforts, forces intercepting suspected pirate groups on the high seas have often been forced to let the suspects go without sanctions because sound and efficient criminal justice mechanisms have not been put in place to enable prosecution.

Together with other bodies that fight for marine security like the Indian Ocean Forum on Maritime Crime (IOFMC), which is a coordinating platform that enhances regional cooperation and develops a law enforcement community around the Indian Ocean, the IOC should find ways of bringing the menace to an end.

At local levels, IOC member states should educate the masses on basic measures to curb ocean pollution. Discarding waste near the coastline and failing to pick up used cans and packaging materials should be discouraged.

Toxic products from boat-maintenance should be similarly discouraged. Although oil spills remain a concern, the actual spills have decreased steadily for several decades.

To ensure no oil spills get to the oceans, boat riders should be encouraged to avoid spills and to service their boats regularly to avoid oil leaks.

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