Building capacity to enhance maritime governance
Good maritime governance is not possible without navies and coast guards that are adequate for monitoring territorial waters and exclusive economic zones. Where states are up to this task, smugglers and traffickers cannot operate freely and fisheries laws are enforceable. However, inadequate capacity to govern the maritime space can hamper a country’s efforts to regulate maritime activity and effectively render any maritime legislation irrelevant. Poor capacity in this area provides tempting opportunities for those who seek to profit from the absence of real enforcement of maritime law.
Our research finds that maritime enforcement capabilities are more closely associated with some maritime threats than with others. Piracy and armed robbery, for example, occur in target-rich environments, regardless of local maritime enforcement capacity. Trafficking in illicit goods that move through large seaports is also seemingly undeterred by coastal patrol capabilities. However, we do find that strong maritime enforcement capacity is closely associated with international cooperation and the development of the blue economy.
This section reviews the four main components of our score: EEZ difficulty, coastal patrol assets, maritime domain awareness, and naval capacity. The final card summarizes our methods and describes our data.
Assessing the Challenge
Measuring the scope of the need
Every state in the Stable Seas Index is presented with a unique geographic challenge in ensuring the security of its maritime space. Stable Seas measures the scope of the hurdles presented to each state by its maritime geography, because this geography defines their maritime enforcement needs. When considering the scope of these geographic challenges, four components are likely to be important:
- EEZ Size- EEZs across Africa range extensively in size. The Seychelles has an EEZ of 1,336,559 square km, which is larger than the land area of France, Spain and the United Kingdom combined (World Bank). The Democratic Republic of Congo, by contrast, has an EEZ of 1,606 square km, roughly 832 times smaller. This means they have significantly different needs when it comes to the capacity to provide security and governance in their respective maritime domains.
- Coastline Length- Coastlines are important because they represent the space in which threats to security in the maritime domain can move onshore. Long coastlines are difficult to monitor, allowing opportunities for nontraditional security threat like trafficking in weapons, drugs and illicit goods to make their make their way onshore.
- Number of Maritime Boundaries- The number of maritime neighbors a state has is not a threat to security in itself, but higher numbers of maritime neighbors do present a problem of coordination and information sharing. Even more than on land, maritime boundaries are difficult to monitor and control and security threats at sea are inherently transnational. Without strong coordination and information sharing with maritime neighbors, effective responses to emerging threats at sea are incredibly difficult. In this vital coordination task, a state such as Madagascar, with five maritime neighbors, faces a more significant challenge than a state like Gambia, with only one.
- Number of Maritime Disputes- Territorial disputes represent a clear challenge to maritime security and governance. It is rare that they lead to actual armed conflict between states, but they often create areas of unclear or disputed authority at sea, hampering efforts to counter maritime crime and realize the full potential of the blue economy.
The geography of Africa’s extensive maritime domain presents significant challenges but also incredible opportunities. By enhancing the region’s maritime enforcement capabilities through additional resources, improved maritime domain awareness, strengthened regional cooperation, and continued capacity building efforts, effective maritime security and governance can be provided, transforming this challenge into a tremendous asset.
Maritime Domain Awareness
A prerequisite for effective maritime governance
Maritime domain awareness (MDA) is the ability to collect, analyze, and disseminate information on a variety of activities in the maritime domain which may affect safety, security, the environment, and economic activity. The sheer size of the maritime space (Mozambique, for example, has an EEZ larger than the land area of Metropolitan France), the limited resources, and the high level of activity makes having even a basic level of MDA incredibly challenging.
Naval officers using SeaVision, a web-based system that supports developing MDA.
MDA in the region is in need of further development. Few states have the number of vessels, aircraft, and remote sensing or communication systems necessary to maintain an accurate picture of activity in their respective maritime spaces. However, important steps are being taken to improve state and regional MDA capabilities.
One of many examples at the level of the state is the donation made to Seychelles by EUCAP Somalia of imagery analysis software and training.1 These tools should significantly enhance capacity for maritime intelligence collection. Further capacity building of this kind will be critical to developing the tools and skills necessary for accurate MDA in African waters.
MDA is also being built at a regional level. A prime example of this is the Critical Maritime Routes (CMR) initiative, an EU-funded program to enhance MDA in the Western Indian Ocean region and Gulf of Guinea. The program includes the development of a new information-sharing platform, the IORIS Network,2 as well as trainings for individuals from regional maritime agencies on subjects such as data collection/analysis and information sharing which build MDA capabilities.3 Similar information-sharing efforts are being made in the Gulf of Guinea via the Yaoundé Process.
Continuing to commit resources to improved MDA both locally and through external capacity-building is critical, as it serves as the basis for addressing all other challenges to maritime governance and security in African waters.
Coastal Patrol Assets
Policing African Waters
Most states in sub-Saharan Africa have navies, but relatively few have forces such as coast guards dedicated to maritime law enforcement. While navies are built primarily for national defense and warfighting, maritime law enforcement is intended to counter a variety of illicit activities at sea, including but not limited to piracy, maritime mixed migration, IUU fishing, and transport of drugs, arms, and wildlife.4
Centre for Multinational Coordination (CMC) in Douala, Cameroon. Photo by Jean-Pierre Larroque, OEF.
Maritime law enforcement also requires unique skillsets and knowledge in areas such as evidence collection, the conduction of search and rescue operations, and fisheries management which are not core to the primary mission of navies. While navies need to work primarily with other military branches and national defense actors, maritime law enforcement requires effective collaboration with fisheries agencies, police forces, and other civilian actors. All of these differences mean that the use of navies for law enforcement purposes is not natural and at times ineffective. However, using navies for law enforcement also has benefits, which are to avoid splitting the chain of command, and a greater mutualization of scarce assets. Where navies are used for law enforcement, they need adapted assets and specific training.
The region is experiencing an increase in maritime law enforcement capabilities through both internal and external capacity-building. One example of these efforts is South Africa’s Project Biro, which commissioned three inshore and three offshore patrol vessels, increasing the country’s maritime law enforcement capacity and lessening the burden of such patrols for the navy’s frigates, which are significantly more expensive to operate.5
External capacity-building in this area comes in the form of training and equipment contributed by a variety of state and multilateral actors. One example of such efforts is the Africa Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership (AMLEP) program.6 AMLEP involves training and multinational operations/boardings which are focused on countering maritime crime, as opposed to national defense. In 2016, AMLEP multinational patrols conducted 32 boardings which identified 50 violations of maritime law, and issued $1.2 million in fines. While these interdictions are valuable in their own right, the skills developed in the course of such operations will be even more critical to creating sustained maritime security in the region.
African maritime law enforcement is also being strengthened through multilateral assistance, the most prominent example of which is the UNODC’s Global Maritime Crime Programme (GMCP).7 GMCP has enhanced maritime law enforcement by developing models for prosecuting acts of piracy, training regional legal professionals on issues related to maritime crime, constructing law enforcement facilities, and training coast guard personnel in counter-trafficking and smuggling operations.8 Like the AMLEP program described above, these kinds of capacity building projects will be crucial to ensuring the region has the infrastructure, equipment, and training to effectively govern its maritime space.
4 Augustus Vogel, “Navies versus. Coast Guards: Defining the Roles of African Maritime Security Forces,” African Security Brief, No. 2, December 2009, p. 2.
5 Timothy Walker, “Can Project Brio Help Africa to Overcome its Maritime Security Challenges?” Institute for Security Studies, May 4, 2015,
Improving Naval Capability
Building capacity to enhance maritime governance
Naval, coastguard, and maritime police capacities in sub-Saharan Africa vary widely. Navies like those of Nigeria and South Africa are comparatively robust, but the gap separating these states from all other coastal sub-Saharan states is quite large.
According to the 2016 Military Balance report, Nigeria has more than five times as many vessels as any other country in the region. South Africa operates the region’s only submarines and is the only state with the capacity to engage in any kind of naval warfare. The disparity also applies to naval personnel, with the navies of just three countries (Nigeria, South Africa, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo) comprising more than 60% of the region’s sailors.
Conversely, the vast majority of sub-Saharan maritime security actors are extremely under-resourced. Liberia has a 50-member coast guard to patrol an EEZ larger than the land area of the United Kingdom. Thirteen states in the region have fewer than ten vessels each with which to provide security to their massive maritime domains, and these tend to be small inshore vessels incapable of providing more than basic coastal patrol operations.
Enforcement capabilities are generally low given the severity of the maritime security threats seen across the region. The thirty sub-Saharan countries covered in this report have approximately 36,000 sailors in total, nearly 10,000 fewer than Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force.9 This lack of capacity is a result of both limited resources and an understandable tendency across the region to focus on land-based security threats. Total sub-Saharan military spending in 2016 was $19.2 billion, just 1.1% of estimated global military spending,10 despite the presence of several of the globe’s most active conflicts. Given the urgency with which African states must address security threats on shore, a relatively small share of African military spending is available to maintain maritime enforcement capability.
Lieutenant Commander Zimasa Mabela aboard South African naval vessel. Photo credit: Rodger Bosch/AFP/Getty Images.
Despite this lack of resources, enforcement capacity in the region is steadily improving. The acquisition of additional maritime security assets and the continued development of actors’ human capital through investments in training, capacity building, and multilateral exercises is giving regional forces the ability to more actively govern their maritime domains. This has resulted in an increasing number of enforcement operations countering maritime security threats such as illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, illicit trades, and piracy. Continuing to improve the region’s enforcement capacity will require additional resources, training, and regional cooperation.
Bosasso Port Police. Photo credit: One Earth Future.
9 Céline Pajon, “Japan’s Coast Guard and Maritime Self-Defense Force: Cooperation among Siblings,” Maritime Awareness Project, December 1, 2016,
10 Nan Tian, Aude Fleurant, Pieter D. Wezeman and Siemont T Wezeman, “Trends in World Military Expenditure, 2016,” SIPRI, April 2017, p. 4
Data and Methods
We measure and define Maritime Enforcement as each country’s capacity to effectively patrol its territorial waters and EEZ for the purposes of investigating illicit activity and enforcing maritime law. The score is not concerned with legal regimes or naval warfighting efforts, though both of these related concepts are greatly affected by Maritime Enforcement. Rather, this score focuses on the difficulty of managing a state’s specific maritime space, its capacity to perform constabulary duties in that space, and the development and regional integration of its maritime domain awareness systems.
We measure the Maritime Enforcement Score with four components:
States face unique challenges depending on the geography of their maritime space. Our difficult score captures this variation by considering factors like coastline length, EEZ size, and relations between each country and its immediate maritime neighbors.
Coastal Patrol Assets
We measure the number of coastal patrol vessels available, which may include a navy, coast guard, port police, and/or other maritime enforcement division. We derive these vessel counts from The Military Balance 2016, an annual global report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). This report did not include information for São Tomé and Príncipe or Comoros, so we supplemented these data with in-house research and inquiries to regional stakeholders. We adopt the coastal patrol vessel definition from the Military Balance report:
Patrol and Coast Combatants: “surface vessels designed for coastal or inshore operations. These include corvettes... offshore patrol ships…, patrol craft…, and patrol boats.”
Expert Assessment of Naval Capacity
Counts of vessels miss some important aspects of naval capability. Equipment can be outdated and navies can be underfunded or inadequately trained. To address this reality and complement our Coastal Patrol Vessels Component, we use an in-house expert assessment to measure naval capability by gauging what activities fall within and beyond the capabilities of African navies.
Expert Assessment of Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA)
Finally, we assess the extent to which a country has made a deliberate commitment to establishing the onshore infrastructure needed to develop maritime domain awareness. It takes into account the establishment of Maritime Operations Centers (MOCs), the information gathering, processing and sharing capabilities of those MOCs, and the county's level of integration into multinational MSA constructs, such as participation in regional MOCs or Zone information sharing arrangements.
More information on Maritime Security Index scoring is available in the Index Code Book.