The Liberia Maritime Authority (LiMA) and stakeholders in the Liberian maritime domain have validated the country’s first-ever National Maritime Security Strategy after months of scrutiny with support from the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the European Union (EU)-funded Support for West African Integrated Maritime Security (SWAIMS) project through ECOWAS Commission. The milestone was achieved at a two-day workshop held at the headquarters of LiMA in Monrovia, September 13 to 14, 2023.
Speaking on behalf of the Officer-In-Charge of LiMA, the Hon. Emmanuel Nuku. Reeves, the Director of Corporate Strategy, John Cuffey said given the fact that the maritime industry is one of the largest on the planet, ensuring that operation at sea continues, takes determined efforts like the strategy that has been validated to guide the country’s preparedness to deal with security issues such as terrorism, piracy, robbery at sea, illegal trafficking of goods and people, illegal fishing and pollution.
Mr. Cuffey pointed out: “Let us be clear that no single agency owns maritime security or can manage their specific maritime threats without the support of other agencies and stakeholders. Our ability to understand, engage with partners, and prevent and respond to maritime threats, builds the foundation of a cohesive multi-agency approach that draws together and utilizes the full range of national capabilities. Through supervision, inspection, and proactive procedures, the maritime industry does its best to minimize threats both malicious and accidental. Liberia is expected to deliver maritime security through a whole of government’s approach that is driven by a joint governance module based on maritime security agencies executing this strategic direction set by the maritime security and oversight committee in this national maritime security strategy.”
In remarks, the Maritime Security Adviser to SWAIMS, Rui Amado said the support scheme is a collaborative effort between the European Union (EU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) with a proud record of cooperation with Liberia. He mentioned that SWAIMS is specifically an ECOWAS project.
According to Mr. Amado, the project team of SWAIMS had been working with LiMA to finalize this important strategy. He indicated that over two months, the technical working group went through the document line by line and the validation session marks the completion of the task as well as acknowledging the efforts of the team and the milestone achievement.
“It is an honor to be here to mark this turning in Liberia’s maritime security policy. As we go forward, SWAIMS will be at hand to support the implementation of the security strategy. I want to congratulate the members of the technical working group, particularly, my colleagues at the Liberia Maritime Authority for their commitment and professionalism,” the SWAIMS Maritime Security Adviser stated.
The Director of Maritime Security, Mr. Simeon T. Cheah, said Liberia is glad to be in partnership with SWAIMS in arriving at a point close to concluding a process that was started two months ago with all hands on deck from stakeholders.
“The importance of this document is to ensure the protection, safety, and security of Liberia’s waters. Today’s validation is a fulfillment of a major obligation as a nation in the Gulf of Guinea and in the ECOWAS region as one of the coastal countries. It is mandatory that we prepare this document having been reminded at many meetings to have Liberia’s National Maritime Security Strategy,” Mr. Cheah emphasized.
He disclosed that the formulation of the National Maritime Security Strategy started as far back as 2019 in the aftermath of a request from the Liberia Maritime Authority to the IMO to assist with an expert who would assess the country’s maritime security sector in collaboration with maritime stakeholders in Liberia.
Mr. Cheah stated that works on the preparation of the strategy resumed in 2021, following his appointment as Director of Maritime Security. “We had fourteen (14) experts over the last two months from various maritime stakeholders’ institutions to review the draft version of the document for four consecutive days. It is the outcome of that review process that led to the historic validation exercise,” the LiMA Security Director said.
The National Security Advisor to the President of Liberia, Mr. Jefferson Karmoh said the National Maritime Security Strategy is very critical to enhancing the government’s overarching responsibility for providing security for the citizenry and more importantly securing the territorial integrity of Liberia.
“We believe very strongly that the country’s maritime territory is an important and integral part of the Republic which must not be overlooked in any aspect. Most times, we emphasize our land boundaries and borders and ignore the maritime terrain because these are areas that are easily penetrable,” the National Security Advisor stressed.
Mr. Karmoh continues: “The office of the President of Liberia welcomes the fulfillment of this national and international requirement ensuring that Liberia is in compliance with international regulations as far as maritime security management is concerned. Your contribution on our collective behalf is applauded and we want to assure you of the support of the Office of the President in ensuring that this document, once finally endorsed by the relevant maritime security committee through the President, the entire National Security Council will fully support its full implementation.”
For his part, the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), Major General Prince C. Johnson, III said the participants at the validation session demonstrated that the document is a “whole of government approach” which confirms that one agency cannot mind the country’s maritime domain.
Major General Johnson said there is a shifting of maritime crimes from the Gulf of Eden to the Gulf of Guinea based on what the global index reported in 2021 and 2022 as compared to the Gulf of Guinea.
“To sit in this room as a whole of Government and finally complete the country’s national maritime strategy is an important note for Liberia because, with this document, all stakeholders will be able to extract their own responsibilities in order to mind our about 300 nautical miles shore. The biggest threat we face in the region is the issue of the expansion of terrorism in the region. With this strategy, there will be an added mechanism to what we already have from the Yaoundé Accord to be able to protect our terrestrial waters. I can assure you of the Armed Forces of Liberia’s support of this strategy. We appreciate the support of SWAIMS to the AFL Coast Guard which has enhanced its operations.
European Union Liberia Green Economy Team Leader, Ms. Montse Panteloni, said the EU is glad to see that Liberia is moving forward with the validation of the country’s national maritime security strategy because of the increasing security concern in the Gulf of Guinea. She stressed that Somalia used to be the hub of piracy and kidnapping and security concerns are growing in the Gulf of Guinea. The EU Mission to Liberia official asserted the need for countries to encourage and promote cooperation because the sea does not belong to anybody.
According to her, illegal fishing should be given serious consideration in the strategy which would be another area that the EU is looking forward to working together with Liberia to curtail. She announced that a fishery program is being developed to help artisanal fishermen in Liberia. “Sometimes, we forget that Liberia is an amazing coastal country and we see all these fishermen risking their lives in spite of the strong sea waves. I look forward to the next step of this strategy,” she stated.
The proxy of the Chairperson on the Maritime Affairs Committee at the Honorable House of Representatives, Hon. Solomon George said this committee stands ready to support the National Maritime Security Strategy.
The two-day workshop brought together representatives of the Ministry of Defense, Liberia Coast Guard, the National Port Authority (NPA), Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC), National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NAFAA), Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Justice, and Ministry of States.