Africa Handshake, Part Three: Save the Fish, to Fight Pirates

With two expensive land wars draining the treasury, the Pentagon wants to prevent future conflicts without spending a lot of money. Two years ago the Navy launched its first, roughly annual Africa Partnership Station, sending ships on solo cruises up the West African coast to deliver training and humanitarian aid. The idea: to win new friends and re-assure old ones, and boost their ability to handle security crises on their own. David Axe joins the landing dock USS Nashville for APS 3.0 in Gabon.

Anjinho Mourinha is a lieutenant commander in the Portuguese navy. It made sense for his commanders to send him to USS Nashville for Africa Partnership Station. Some of the nations on Nashville’s route are Portuguese-speaking — Sao Tome and Principe, for instance — and Portugal retains strong diplomatic and economic ties with these countries as a leftover from the colonial era.

Mourinha teaches courses on fisheries protection for his African students, teaching them to know and enforce local laws regarding what, and how much, can be fished in a given region. For many West African communities, fish are the foundation of their income and “food security.” In that way, fisheries are a major security concern. “If these countries lose some of their alimentary security that come from fisheries, it is likely that maybe some of the populations will engage in other kinds of activities that can damage security,” Mourinha said.

Take Somalia, for instance, where today hundreds of pirates threaten world sea trade passing through the region. “The story in Somalia started with population trying to stop illegal fishing,” Mourinha said. Aggrieved fishermen levied unofficial fees on boats fishing illegally in Somali waters, because there was no government entity doing it for them. These “do-it-yourself” Somali fisheries enforcers realized they could apply their “board and fine” model to passing commercial vessels. Viola, piracy.

It’s Mourinha’s job to make sure that doesn’t happen in West Africa. It’s fisheries enforcement as conflict prevention, by way of APS.

(Photo: David Axe)