The eastern and western oceans of Africa suffer from daunting challenges, including burgeoning attacks on vessels and offshore infrastructure by pirates and insurgent groups, drug smuggling, toxic waste-dumping at sea, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and other illegal activity. Limited local capacity to address broader challenges of marine environmental protection and ocean management also threaten to undermine good order at sea.
The Australian Government has responded to these challenges by offering 53 scholarships to professionals in maritime governance and security from 17 African nations to attend a specifically designed course delivered by the Australia National Centre for Ocean Regulation and Security (ANCORS) at the University of Wollongong.
ANCORS Director, Professor Martin Tsamenyi AM, says the importance of the sea is generally under-appreciated in most African countries. “Even states with extensive ocean estates and interests often lack an appreciation of just how important the sea is to their economic wellbeing, food security and national security interests,” he said.
“The course instils the importance of regional cooperation in managing governance and security issues in an inherently transnational environment; values which participants can share and promote both in their home countries and in regional engagement activities.
”The courses build a broad knowledge framework to guide policy makers and enforcement officers in tackling the problems, covering areas such as the Law of the Sea, ocean governance and environmental management, fisheries enforcement, and piracy and maritime security.
Sumuna Thomson Wreh was one of four Liberians who participated in the course. As the Associate Director for Environmental Protection in the Liberian Maritime Authority, Sumuna seeks to integrate domestic policy consistent with those of the ratified Law of the Sea Convention. “We have to ensure that we have domestic laws that are properly integrated with the Law of the Sea Convention to protect our zones so that we can prosecute illegal activities in our contiguous zone,” she said.
Sumuna emphasised the importance of attending such training with colleagues from other government departments. “I learned the importance of integrated management and looking after our marine resources holistically. Having undertaken the training with three other colleagues, I now have partners in other departments to coordinate government activities,” she said.
In 2011, Australia was appointed as Vice Chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC) and committed AUD1.3 million in support of improved ocean forecasting, capacity building in marine management and ocean security. Australia will assume the Chair for a two-year period from late 2013 to late 2015.