The need to improve our maritime wing!
Many people in West Africa may not have heard about this but surely no one who had had the opportunity of knowing about it has regretted the knowledge gained about the African Partnership Station or APS. It goes without saying that the coastal borders and territorial waters of West and Central African countries are continually been abused and invaded by pirates and other sea criminals. This unproductive move has necessitated the development of improved sea regulations and maritime administration by African Governments including Sierra Leone. But can we sincerely boast of success stories in sea safety? Your guess is as good as mine.Â (Photo: Author – Mohamed Faray Kargbo on board USS Gunston Hall in the Atlantic Ocean)
Sierra Leone is one of the worst hit by activities of pirates and other sea criminals. Little wonder the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources has been developing measures to combat coastal maladministration. In spite of all that has been done, it is worth noting that much needs to be done in the area of developing the Maritime Wing of the Sierra Leone Armed Forces. Already, some people have invested huge amount of resources in the area of skills development, capacity and capability building.
Just few days ago, April 4th 2010; the United States led African Partnership Station (APS) with support from the African Command deployed 17 coastal guards from Liberia, 16 maritime wing officers from Sierra Leone, in what has been described as the biggest gathering of naval officers to be trained in Dakar, Senegal.
Many more from Gambia, Cape Verde, Equatorial Guinea, and Senegal are expected to join the team.
Training African navies in partnering with each other is one thing but what provision has the Governments made to make sure that those trainees transform the knowledge gained into productive and resourceful instruments? Even with the existence of the Joint Forces, much is not heard about the Sierra Leone Maritime Wing. The author cannot quite tell whether there is a Public Relations Officer that is primarily responsible for the Public Relations of the Maritime Wing; but the need to project the image of the naval forces is glare to say the least. Did I hear somebody say we have a Maritime Administration?
Well that is another cup of tea. Where were they when over 200 lives were lost in the Shangay boat accident in 2009? Anyway, we are talking about defense!
There are less than 400 SLAF Maritime wing officers yet not enough resources to even do the basics. Do they perform regular damage control exercises? You may as well want to ask about the equipments. Though recent launched, the Search and Rescue team can only boast of a derelict boat that can better serve as a monument in a museum. It was however not surprising when an American Naval officer remarked thus when asked whether they had a similar patrol boat to the one we are now using.
â€œWe stopped using those since the 1970sâ€. Sierra Leoneâ€™s patrol vessel has been described as a death trap. The harsh reality is that we need to commend our men.
Their salary and conditions of service is nothing to write home about.
The army seems to be paying more attention to infantry and other forces but should we forgo the crucial role of the sea protectors at the expense of our nation? The vast resources underneath our waters can perform miracles for Sierra Leone if properly earnest, judiciously utilized and uncompromisingly protected. The sea is twice as large as the land yet we seem to be protecting the land more than the sea.
May I conclude this piece by advising all stakeholders concerned that we can get more than we desire if we can resist paying lip service to our territorial waters and be a bit more serious with maritime administration. The move by the African Partnership Station (APS) is a step in the right direction. All we need to do now is to ceaselessly work for the attainment of all by any means necessary to see that piracy and sea theft are drastically reduced. This can best be done by empowering the Sierra Leone Armed Forces Maritime Wing.by Mohamed Faray Kargo, Freetown (The author is a Producer, Presenter and Reporter for Radio Democracy FM 98.1, BA HONS ONE Student (Mass Communication) Fourah Bay College, USL, Presently cruising onboard United States Ship Gunston Hall LSD 44, Destination: Senegal)
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