Ghana: A Rising Star in the Maritime Domain

By Lieutenant Commander Onege Maroadi, U.S. Navy

Steadfast Political Will

“The 21st century will be shaped by what happens not just in Rome or Moscow or Washington, but by what happens in Accra, as well.” 1 With these words, President Barack Obama addressed the Ghanaian parliament in 2009 during his first presidential visit to Africa. The goal of President Obama’s visit was to highlight Ghana as a beacon of democracy and to support positive trends in the nation’s economic and security initiatives. 2 The “U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa” emphasizes these very objectives: to strengthen democratic institutions, spur economic growth, promote development, and advance peace and security. 3 Over the years, fair leadership in Ghana, a competitive business environment, and relatively low poverty levels compared with its neighbors have strengthened the country’s economy. 4 However, illicit maritime activity in the Gulf of Guinea has a destabilizing effect that threatens to unravel past efforts and hamper future development in the region. By 2012, incidents of armed robbery at sea and piracy in the Gulf of Guinea had surpassed those in the Gulf of Aden and on the Western Indian Ocean, hitting an annual record high of 966 attacks. 5 The discovery of oil and gas reserves in Ghana’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) has raised concern that increased criminal activity might trail the expected surge in maritime traffic. The Jubilee oilfield, which is the largest recent offshore oil discovery in West Africa, is located just 37 miles from Ghana’s coast. 6

The late Ghanaian president John Atta Mills’ determination to protect his nation’s diverse marine natural resources —especially fisheries, crude oil, and natural gas reserves —led to the purchase of four new navy fast patrol vessels for the first time in 32 years. The Snake-class vessels, procured from China, were commissioned in February 2012 and named after venomous snakes to portray their lethal capability. The Ghana Navy Ship (GNS) Blika is the cobra, the GNS Garinga is the venomous viper, the Chemle is the black mamba, and the Ehwor is the python. 7 The Ghana Navy also acquired two additional Albatross -class coastal patrol vessels from Germany and named them after Ghanaian icons of power and resilience. GNS Yaa Asantewaa pays tribute to a 20th-century warrior queen of the Ashanti Empire, and GNS Naa Gbewaa was named after the founding father of the northern Ghanaian region. 8 The new assets were accompanied by contracts for parts, maintenance, and training provided by the two nations issuing the vessels, followed by theater-security collaborative efforts such as Africa Partnership Station. APS is a U.S.-led international commitment to develop the maritime capacity and capability of African navies with participation from European and South American partner nations.

Collaborative Capacity and Capability

The Ghana Navy applied its newly acquired assets and the lessons learned from bilateral and multilateral initiatives to great immediate effect. According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), there were no reported incidents of piracy or armed robbery at sea in Ghana’s EEZ in 2013 until the last day of the year, when three robbers boarded a ship in Takoradi but fled immediately once spotted. 9 The Ghana Navy demonstrated its improved ability to conduct maritime interdiction operations (MIO) when it captured the motor tanker (MT) Mustard in July 2013, arresting 17 people accused of transporting fuel siphoned from the MT Cotton , which had been hijacked off the coast of Gabon. 10 Four months later, five people were arrested on the MV Atiyah for transporting cocaine worth $50 million. 11 Security Watch Africa magazine recognized Ghana as the most developmentally conscious navy in West Africa in 2013, commending its efforts to improve maritime safety and security in the region. 12

Yet, around 0400 on 26 July 2014, the captain of the MT Prins Alexander drafted an email to the IMB, reporting that the MT Hai Soon 6 had been hijacked. He had witnessed the incident from his boat as the two vessels conducted ship-to-ship operations at a location 45 nautical miles south of Anloga, Ghana. 13 The Prins Alexander ’s captain watched helplessly as ten pirates armed with AK-47 assault rifles approached in a wooden boat, attacked, boarded, and took control of the Kiribati-flagged Hai Soon . The pirates sailed the hijacked vessel in a southeast direction, and eventually headed through Togo’s and Benin’s waters to Nigeria’s EEZ. Within minutes of receiving the email, the duty officer at IMB’s Piracy Reporting Center alerted vessels in the area and notified regional authorities. But none could communicate with or track the hijacked vessel until it was released nine days later, 60 nautical miles east of Lagos, Nigeria, its oil cargo stolen. The hijacking was the second in Ghana’s EEZ in less than two months; the MT Fair Artemis had met a similar fate the previous month. The Greek tanker was hijacked 45 nautical miles south of Accra and released one week later in Nigeria’s EEZ, after the ship’s oil cargo and the crew’s property had been stolen. 14

It had become unmistakably clear that the pirates were far from opportunistic robbers; they were organized and methodical, well trained, and adequately equipped, and they were expanding their criminal activity—reaching Ghana and hurting its established reputation as one of the nations with the most tranquil waters in the region. The two incidents occurred in Ghana’s EEZ not long after the country had joined forces with 24 other Gulf of Guinea nations to develop and sign the Yaounde Code of Conduct (YCoC). They pledged to unite their efforts and develop a common maritime strategy to counter threats in the region, and they also agreed to a framework that will facilitate information-sharing and coordination of operations at the national and regional levels. 15 By early 2015, Ghana had made good on its pledge through its navy’s response to the hijacking incidents involving the MT Mariam and the fishing vessel (FV) Lu Rong Yuan Yu 917 .

The hijacking of the Mariam was reported on 17 January 2015 by its owner, who tracked his vessel and requested assistance from the Ghana Navy as the ship drifted into the country’s EEZ. The Ghana Navy dispatched the GNS Blika with an MIO team on board. Within four hours, the Blika had intercepted and boarded the hijacked vessel. Its MIO team conducted visit-board-search-and-seizure tactics, arresting eight pirates and confiscating their belongings, including four AK-47s with 300 rounds of ammunition. 16

The Yuan Yu was hijacked less than three weeks later, 27 nautical miles south of Takoradi in Ghana’s EEZ. 17 The Navy sprang into action and tracked the hijacked vessel as she headed east, executing the maritime-security framework of the YCoC by collaborating with the Togolese and Beninese navies, sharing information and coordinating efforts to interdict the pirates. To facilitate information-sharing, the YCoC framework groups the Gulf of Guinea nations from Angola to Cabo Verde geographically into maritime zones, naming them alphabetically as A, D, E, F, and G. 18 Ghana has been grouped into Zone F with Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, while Togo, Benin, and Nigeria belong to Zone E. At the time of the Yuan Yu incident, neither the Zone E nor Zone F coordination centers had been operationalized, and their tactical, operational, and strategic authorities and limitations were yet to be determined. But these gaps did not deter the Ghanaian, Togolese, or Beninese navies from conducting combined operations in response to the hijacked vessel.

Upon receiving position, course, and speed of the Yuan Yu from the Ghana Navy, the Togolese Navy swiftly responded, deploying a patrol vessel to engage the pirates, who had drifted into that country’s waters. 19 As the Togolese patrol vessel conducted a search-and-rescue mission to save 20 of the Yuan Yu crew members who had jumped overboard, the pirates fled the scene—sailing the ship further east into Benin’s waters. The Ghanaian and Togolese navies maintained communication and informed the Beninese Navy, which also deployed a patrol vessel that trailed and tracked the Yuan Yu until she sailed into Nigeria’s waters. There the pirates departed, allowing the master to retake control of his vessel and sail her back to the Tema port in Ghana. 20

The Ghana Navy’s handling of the Mariam and the Yuan Yu incidents showed that the service was reestablishing confident control of its maritime domain with enhanced capacity and capability to share information, and to coordinate locally and regionally in accordance with the YCoC. One crew member who jumped from the Yuan Yu died and 1,500 metric tons of crude oil were lost from the Mariam , siphoned by the pirates prior to the navy’s interdiction. 21 The loss of life and valuable resources highlight the dire need for Ghana and other Gulf of Guinea navies to develop well-timed and better-coordinated responses. Efficient integration of modern technology at the national and regional operations centers is one way to boost situational awareness and provide solid intelligence to augment response coordination during maritime operations.

Modern Response Coordination

Regional maritime authorities were unable to track the hijacked Hai Soon and Fair Artemis in 2014 because the pirates likely disconnected the vessels’ surveillance and communications equipment. The automatic identification system (AIS) is required by law as a navigational aid but it also is a convenient resource for vessel owners and for maritime authorities because its data inputs feed into their surveillance systems, enabling them to identify and track vessels of interest. Maritime criminals typically disconnect AIS when operating vessels illegally, anticipating a loss of situational awareness to the authorities and consequent delays to response coordination. By the time the Mariam and Yuan Yu incidents occurred in 2015, Ghanaian authorities had caught on to the pirates’ tactics of disconnecting AIS. Ghana had begun to collaborate with international partners to supplement AIS by integrating additional data inputs into their maritime-surveillance systems.

Obangame Express 2015 scenarios presented an opportunity to use modern surveillance systems by simulating recent incidents of illicit maritime activity including realistic injects such as disconnected AIS. During the exercise, watchstanders at the Naval HQ Maritime Operations Center (MOC) in Accra were able to continuously track the simulated hijacked vessel on nine monitors displaying real-time information. 22 This coverage was possible because the MOC’s surveillance systems correlated data inputs not only from AIS, but also from additional data feeds such as coastal radar, satellite radar, long-range identification and tracking, and other sensors. The varied data feeds enabled continued identification and tracking of vessels despite the loss of AIS data inputs.

Through international partnerships, several manufacturers have developed and installed the software and hardware for the maritime-surveillance systems belonging to the Ghana Navy as well as Ghana’s Maritime Authority, Marine Police, and Fisheries Commission. Technical collaboration among these maritime agencies is limited because some of the technology installed as part of their maritime-surveillance systems construct is proprietary. Such technology is usually not interoperable with other equipment; like a cell phone that is locked to mobile data from one network, proprietary equipment may not allow data inputs from other sensor feeds to be visually displayed. Some of the maritime surveillance systems can display only AIS data, while data inputs from other sensors are blocked from being integrated into their systems. This limits the ability for information to be shared among national and regional maritime authorities. Proprietary equipment is costly to “unlock” but the integration of varied sensor data inputs is absolutely necessary as a means to enable continuous coverage of the maritime domain, in order to overcome pirate attempts to tamper with vessels’ communications and surveillance equipment.

Foreign-defense organizations and commercial industries seeking to support the repression of transnational crime in Ghana’s waters have an opportunity here to facilitate cost-free interoperability of all hardware and software of maritime-surveillance systems, with the goal to generate a national permanent common maritime picture. A CMP will enable an identical display of information throughout the nation’s MOCs. This will increase situational awareness, improve communication among authorities, and guarantee thorough and continuous virtual control of Ghana’s maritime domain. Also overdue are upgrades that will eliminate security limitations and vulnerabilities affecting current global vessel-tracking technology through AIS. Since AIS also broadcasts a vessel’s cargo, flagged country, and destination, vessel masters typically turn off the equipment when transiting areas with known pirate activity. Hacking experts are concerned that pirates use the information shared on AIS “as a shopping list” for target vessels’ details. 23 Efforts to improve maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea should include the provision of expert technical support to validate, authenticate, and encrypt information shared through maritime-surveillance systems, so that it remains accessible only to legitimate vessel owners and to maritime authorities. A concerted focus on ensuring technical interoperability and protecting vessel information will enable secure real-time intelligence to be shared among maritime-security authorities, and will prompt precise and better-coordinated responses to be heard, seen, and felt by criminals, deterring them once and for all from Ghana’s waters.

Commitment to Maritime Security

Once Vice Admiral Foggo completed his inspection of the honor guard at the closing ceremony for Obangame Express 2015, the guard commander called out orders for final compliments to be paid to the admiral, and with the admiral’s permission, the guard was dismissed. The guard marched off smartly, right hands gripping M16s, clutched to their sides, magazines facing forward, and bayonets pointed to the sky. The men’s and women’s left arms swung as high as their shoulders, and their faces beamed with the zeal and honor of soldiers proudly representing their nation.

The presence of Ghana’s vice president at the closing ceremony revealed the government’s clear strategic direction for maritime peace and security. At the event, Vice President Kwesi Amissah-Arthur confirmed the Ghanaian government’s commitment to resolve maritime-security challenges affecting the Gulf of Guinea and threatening global trade. 24 Ghana’s Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Geoffery Biekro, took advantage of the opportunity to emphasize the multidimensional nature of the maritime environment and his vision to maintain a professional and highly responsive naval force with strategic objectives, which include enhancing collaboration, maintaining high operational readiness, and achieving total surveillance coverage of the country’s EEZ. 25

Ghana is ideally poised with the political will, commitment to collaborate, and consistent efforts to improve its maritime environment. Supporting a regional model such as Ghana and focusing international efforts to close comparatively small gaps in its maritime security initiatives is the most efficient way to arrive at an immediate and permanent solution for maritime peace and security in the country’s waters. Eventually other model nations in the region should be targeted for similar concentrated efforts toward identified gaps in their maritime law enforcement initiatives so that peace and security can be replicated throughout the Gulf of Guinea.

1. Megan Slack, “From the Archives: President Obama’s Trip to Ghana,”, 14 June 2012, .

2. “President Obama’s Visit to Ghana: Starting the Conversation,”, 9 July 2009, .

3. “U.S. Strategy Toward Sub Saharan Africa,” The White House, June 2012, .

4. Ghana, Central Intelligence Agency, .

5. Kaija Hurburt and D. Conor Seyle (lead authors), “The Human Cost of Maritime Piracy 2012,” Oceans Beyond Piracy , 2013, Full Report.pdf.

6. Ghana—Oil and Gas Development, Kosmos Energy website, .

7. “President Commissions Four New Vessels for Ghana Navy,”, 21 February 2012. .

8. “Ghana Navy Takes Delivery of Two Ex-German Fast Attack Craft,” Defence Web , 1 August 2012, .

9. “Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships,” 2013 Annual Report , ICC-International Maritime Bureau, January 2014.

10. Stephen Starr, “Maritime Piracy on the Rise in West Africa,” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point , 28 April 2014, .

11. Matthew Mpoke Bigg, “Five Plead Guilty After Cocaine Ship is Seized in Ghana Waters,” Reuters, 22 November 2013, .

12. “Ghana Navy Wins Award for Being Most Developmental Conscious Navy in West Africa,” Ghana Armed Forces website, 6 November 2013, .

13. V. Shvets, personal communication, 26 July 2014.

14. “Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships,” 2014 Annual Report , ICC-International Maritime Bureau, January 2015.

15. Code of Conduct Concerning the Repression of Piracy, Armed Robbery Against Ships, and Illicit Maritime Activity in West and Central Africa, 15 June 2013.

16. Benjamin Glover, “How Ghana Navy Arrested Nigerian Pirates on Oil Tanker—The Full Story,”, 18 January 2015, .

17. “Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships,” 2015 Q1 Report , ICC-International Maritime Bureau, April 2015.

18. “Information Sharing in West Africa” map, Oceans Beyond Piracy,

19. “Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships,” 2015 Q1 Report , ICC-International Maritime Bureau.

20. “Togolese Navy Intervenes against Pirate Attacks,”, 4 February 2015. .

21. “Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships,” 2015 Q1 Report , ICC-International Maritime Bureau. Glover, “How Ghana Navy Arrested Nigerian Pirates on Oil Tanker—The Full Story.”

22. J. Tysk, “Obangame Express 2015—Ghana MOCs Observation Summary,” March 2015.

23. “Can AIS Be Trusted?,”, 16 October 2013, .

24. Vice President Kwesi Amissah-Arthur, speech presented at the Obangame Express closing ceremony, Accra, Ghana, 27 March 2015.

25. Rear Admiral Geoffery Biekro, discussions during the Obangame Express closing ceremony events, 25–27 March 2015.

Lieutenant Commander Maroadi has served as a P-3 pilot and as a foreign area officer in the U.S. Navy. As the U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet Gulf of Guinea Country Officer, she liaised with the Ghana Navy throughout the planning and execution of Exercise Obangame Express. This submission won second prize in the 2015 International Navies Essay Contest, sponsored by Finmeccanica North America/DRS Technologies.




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