L'Express (Port Louis)

11 June 2010

Mauritius: Why We Need a Maritime Strategy in the Indian Ocean...

Port Louis — Navin Ramgoolam recently underlined the interplay between maritime safety and security (MSS) and the development in the sub-region. Mauritius could now use the Indian Ocean Commission to conduct an audit of the maritime capacities of the Indian Ocean, so as to better engage international stakeholders.

Piracy costs around 250 million US dollars per year and more and more, it is affecting the economies of the Island States of the Indian Ocean. During the 25th Africa-France Summit, held in Nice on May 31, Dr. Navin Ramgoolam, very rightly pointed out that "piracy has led to an increase in the cost of insurances which in turn is translated into a rise in the price of our imported goods". He called for an increased collaboration between Mauritius and France in order to fight this growing maritime phenomenon both countries are already combining efforts through the Indian Ocean Commission. Mauritius is now presiding over the sub-regional organization and one can expect an increased focus on the nexus between maritime safety and security and the development in the sub-region.

In the same line, India is also discussing greater security and economic cooperation with Seychelles. India has been implementing a more intimate security grid with the Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles as these countries are vulnerable in the absence of maritime domain awareness and adequate firepower.

Recently senior officials from Djibouti, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, South Africa and senior Representatives of the US, EU and several international organizations (AU, INTERPOL and UNODC) also discussed on a regular basis the threat and challenges of MSS in the Indian Ocean and they all agreed that the region is particularly affected because of lack of resources to confront the growing maritime menace.

Threats over and above the Somali pirates

As we know, the maritime domain is a space of evolving geo-strategic importance. Africa generally and the Indian Ocean in particular have been particularly affected by maritime threats. In order to begin to address maritime threats and challenges through the development of a maritime strategy, it is critical to assess and prioritize those threats and challenges.

According to several experts and the regional authorities, over and above piracy in Somalia, maritime threats include specific operational issues across the spectrum of maritime activities that can be measured in real losses and opportunity costs. These types of threats include illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing resource theft, including oil bunkering trafficking of goods, including arms and narcotics money laundering climate change and coastal erosion and environmental degradation, which includes illegal dumping (including toxic waste),pollution, and oil and chemical spills, among others.

Beyond these "tangible operational" threats, there are also "institutional" threats and challenges, which are more often of a structural nature. These include endemic poverty and high unemployment, food insecurity, political instability, conflict and corruption. Though these issues may seem removed from the immediate maritime domain, they have a very real and tangible effect on MSS.

Illegal fishing is killing Africa

According to Dr. Andre Le Sage, Senior Research Fellow for Africa at the Institute for National Strategic Studies, "IUU fishing is a primary African maritime security concern. Global annual losses to IUU fishing are estimated at $10 to $23 billion, with estimates for sub-Saharan Africa totaling $1 billion per year." Citing UN and British reports, he added that IUU fishing now represents approximately 15-20 percent of all catches along Africa's Indian Ocean coast. This is a lucrative business: in Somalia, illegal fishing in tuna and shrimp can net $94 million per year.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 200 million Africans rely on fish for nutrition, 10 million rely on fishing for income and some coastal nations could increase their Gross National Product (GNP) up to 5 percent with effective fisheries regulation.

The conference of ministers on maritime safety and security acknowledged that to the direct and indirect threats, a comprehensive strategy should encompass the emerging challenges to address the threats. Hence the expansion of the maritime domain and the under- surveillance by states of their territorial waters, the inability of many states to outfit and sustain a maritime force in terms of human and physical resources the poor coordination and communication between stakeholders in the maritime domain, and the (previous?) lack of political will in government to prioritize and commit resources to the maritime domain. All these challenges, mostly institutional, make it harder to confront the threats.

As the maritime threats affect a broad and diverse group of individuals, from Seychelles to Mauritius, from Mozambique to Maldives, it is vital for each country to develop a national maritime safety and security strategy, before comparing notes to adopt a regional strategy. From the individual citizen to national, regional and international bodies with responsibility for the maritime domain, to a variety of private organizations with specific interest in maritime issues and security, the group of stakeholders that a country can interact is numerous.

In the Indian Ocean Commission, Mauritius can generate momentum in the enhancement of maritime safety and security in the sub-region.

Underscoring the importance of the maritime domain for sustained economic development, like Prime Minister Ramgoolam did, is a first major step. Initiating the creation of national maritime safety and security strategies by conducting audits of maritime capacities in the operational, financial, legal and regulatory domains could be the second one...if we want to develop action plans to make adjustments where needed.

A regional coast guard

Several maritime security analysts believe that the misalignment of maritime security forces hinders states' ability to properly address maritime security threats. The reason for this misalignment is that African states, during the Cold War, relied on external powers to protect their maritime domain. And they have historically tasked their armies to defend the land, shying away from the sea. However, times have changed. In Mauritius, for instance, members of the Special Mobile Force could be asked to focus on coastal security instead.

They could help the coast guards fight organized crime (which includes gun-running, smuggling, drug trafficking, the destruction of maritime resources through dumping and pollution).

Governments must properly identify threats and appropriately allocate resources to address them. Another possibility could be the setting up of a unified maritime force to protect the South-West Indian Ocean with officers from Mauritius, Seychelles, Maldives, Comoros, Reunion, Madagascar...This unified front should be able to attract more attention and collaboration from international stakeholders.

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