"We need to see what we're losing off our coastlines. This is step one. We have to have this," Admiral Harry Ulrich, Commander U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa, told the Seapower for Africa Symposium in the capital Abuja.The Admiral is spot on.
"I start with maritime domain awareness. You did not hear me talk about boats, ships, missiles, guns or hardware," he said, adding that governments had to have good data so they could invest in the right equipment to tackle problems at sea.
Ulrich described the situation in African waters as "grim". He said an estimated $1 billion were lost annually to illegal fishing off Sub-Saharan Africa, and stopping this could increase the continent's gross national product by 3 to 9 percent.
Nigeria alone loses at least $1.5 billion per year in cargoes of stolen crude oil, Ulrich said. He also cited a report that ranked Somalia second in the world and Nigeria third for pirate attacks. Number one is Indonesia.
Ulrich said a big part of the problem was that African countries had little information about what went on in their territorial waters, and AIS was a cheap way to solve this.
The system consists of radio receivers, worth between $2,000 and $5,000 each, that can pick up signals from ships at sea. Under U.N. and International Maritime Organisation rules, ships of 300 tonnes or more must carry AIS transmitters that continuously broadcast their position, destination and cargo.
The president of Nigeria looks for cooperation among African nations here:
President Olusegun Obasanjo has called for closer ties among African navies in order to put an end to the frequent threat to lives and economic activities, operations of sea pirates and crude oil thieves as well as all kinds of crime on the African waterways.
Explaining why the closer cooperation among the African navies was necessary now, he said the Gulf of Guinea, located within the African maritime environment, was now emerging as another important economic centre for the entire world.
Speaking further, Obasanjo noted that African maritime environment, must be made secure to enable the African countries to peacefully harvest the resources therein and as such must be made safe for free trade with the rest of the world.
"Our maritime environment must not be available for terrorists, pirates and illegal explorers to use. Furthermore, the use of Africa’s waters for gun running, illicit trafficking in people and destabilisation of social, political and economic programmes of legitimates must be prevented" he added.