The United States military organised the first-ever maritime exercise to bolster the skills of West African forces. The drill, held in Ghana’s Volta River on March 11, was carried out under the US’ long-running Flintlock programme. Around 350 troops participated in the sea-based training, including servicemen from the Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Nigeria on the Gulf of Guinea.
Admiral Milton Sands, commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command for Africa (SOCAF), said the programme had expanded to help coastal nations in the region cope with maritime threats such as piracy and illegal fishing. Unauthorised fishing “is a significant one that we’re really trying to work with our partners to get our arms around slowing down,” he said in an interview. He said illegal fishing robbed the region of a key food source and fuelled other criminal activity, including drugs and human trafficking.
The West African region has become a global piracy hotspot in recent years, although cases have fallen since 2021, according to the UN Security Council. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing has spread along its coasts, draining an estimated $9.4 billion per year through illicit financial flows, said a 2022 report by the financial transparency coalition of non-governmental organisations. Of the top 10 companies they found involved in IUU fishing in the region, eight were Chinese, and a third of all vessels sported Chinese flags, it said.