Mozambique’s Hi-Tech Security Could be Africa’s Model - Global Trade Magazine
  July 11th, 2019 | Written by

Mozambique’s Hi-Tech Security Could be Africa’s Model

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  • The country is losing an estimated $60 million in revenue each year to illegal fishing, mostly by foreign-owned ships.
  • Tighter monitoring of its ports and maritime traffic would help the country crack down on all these crimes.
  • Many people who were involved in piracy and other criminal activity a decade ago are still engaged in maritime crime.

The threat of piracy has waned around the Horn of Africa in recent years, a fact that mariners attribute to the “Djibouti rules.” Countries with coastlines on the West Indian Ocean and the Red Sea abide by the Djibouti Code of Conduct, a regional response to security, environmental and administrative challenges that have confronted shipping for many years.

In even better news, there’s now a chance for “Djibouti 2.” This wouldn’t be a diplomatic accord. Rather, advanced technology offers the promise of new dynamism to cooperation and surveillance, which we can see as a follow up to the Djibouti rules. A model for the kinds of high-tech equipment and systems that can help protect assets in the seas is now in the hands of a southern signatory to the code, Mozambique.

To be precise, the model in this case are the high-speed maritime security vessels and an accompanying set of seven unmanned radar sites and VSAT satellite surveillance services that Mozambique took delivery of a few years ago.

The wide range of threats to mariners and commercial enterprises on Africa’s East coast demand not only multinational cooperation but also real-time intelligence to inform and direct law-enforcement efforts. In its recent report on maritime security, DefenseWeb, notes that the Djibouti code has been amended to cover illicit maritime activity beyond piracy and armed robbery, such as weapons, drugs, human and wildlife trafficking; illegal waste dumping; illegal fishing; and crude oil theft. Satellite and radar are needed to pinpoint these threats.

International organizations like the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime have focused resources on the Horn of Africa, specifically in Somalia and Somaliland. But trouble has a way of migrating down the coast. Indeed, the root causes of piracy are often ignored. According to the Africa Center for Security Policy, piracy is problem that is primarily  land-based with maritime symptoms. Many of the people who were involved in piracy and other criminal activity a decade ago are still engaged in maritime crime.  

These elements are converging in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province. With marauding terrorist gangs crossing Tanzania’s southern border into Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique, spikes in violence have already been seen, including an attack there earlier this year on contractors for the U.S. energy giant Anadarko. One person was beheaded. As Anadarko and other oil and gas firms develop offshore natural gas fields, terrorists and criminals will no doubt put their sights on these target-rich environments at sea. That is the moment when satellite surveillance and radar arrays will prove valuable.

Mozambique has a state-of-the-art capacity at its disposal, even if the radar systems have not yet been deployed in some cases. This equipment, provided by the global shipbuilding company Privinvest, can be used to protect and monitor the estimated $30 billion worth of gas reserves now under development in Mozambique’s territorial waters.

In addition, the country is losing an estimated $60 million in revenue each year to illegal fishing, mostly by foreign-owned ships, according to Mozambican minister of oceans and fisheries Agostinho Mondlane. Many millions more worth of ivory, minerals, alcohol, narcotics and sugar are smuggled out of Africa through scantly-monitored ports in northern Mozambique. Tighter monitoring of its ports and maritime traffic would help the country crack down on all these crimes.

Satellite and radar tracking would complement one another especially when it comes to monitoring the Exclusive Economic Zones of coastal states in Africa. Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) aboard ships, which track vessels, can also be picked up by satellite. Illegal fishing, smuggling or pirate vessels have every reason not to turn on their AIS systems. That’s where radar systems capable of running Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) become essential to law enforcement. Setting up VMS with equipment already purchased by Mozambique and running them through a unified command center would make Mozambique a model to be replicated across the continent.

The Djibouti Code of Conduct depends on meaningful contributions from its signatory states. By standing up its radar stations, operationalizing its satellite services and integrating its high-speed patrol boats and interceptors into this technology-driven network, Mozambique could provide the living blueprint for maritime security in Africa.

Gregory Tosi is an attorney practicing international trade law in developing countries. He also builds personal submersibles and small boats


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