By Kemeseng Sanneh (Kexx)
The Government of The Gambia through the Ministry of Interior, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Expertise France to implement SEACOP V in The Gambia. The signing ceremony was held on Thursday at the Ministry of Interior office in Bijilo.
Seaport Cooperation Programme (SEACOP) seeks to build capacities and strengthen cooperation against maritime trafficking in countries on the trans-Atlantic cocaine route.
The Minister of Interior, Siaka Sonko said the cooperation comes at a time when the Government of The Gambia is intensively devising mechanisms to improve controls at the seaport.
“These efforts are against the backdrop of the pressure placed on the West African States by powerful transnational organised criminal groups using the proximity of the region to South America for the trafficking of huge quantities of cocaine. These groups capitalised on the low capacity at the ports and most importantly the highly unpoliced maritime zones,” he said.
Minister Sonko said despite the low capacity and capability, law enforcement agencies in the region have proven very resilient and committed, which is demonstrated by record seizures of cocaine and hashish registered within the last five years.
He said Gambia’s drug agency DLEAG has reviewed its operational approach and adopted the intelligence-led model which resulted in the seizure of record quantities of drugs at both the seaports and inland. He added that the partnership with SEACOP will reinforce existing efforts by improving interagency cooperation and coordination using the multi-agency approach.
“The agreement of The Gambia government through my ministry to sign this memorandum of understanding with Expertise France for the implementation of the project is enough political goodwill and proof of shared vision and common objective with SEACOP to improve maritime security inside our sovereign waters and prevent transatlantic maritime trafficking to/from The Gambia,” he explained.
Minister Sonko said SEACOP’s objective is consistent with The Gambia government’s priorities to strengthen maritime security, especially against the imminent threat posed by organised crime syndicates.
“We will continue to pursue this objective politically and through partnerships like this one. I, therefore, assure the SEACOP project team and your donor that The Gambia government is committed to the implementation of this project and is looking forward to a very fruitful partnership for the common good of humanity,” he said.
The public officer urged the partners to work together to free the world from the siege of organised crime if they are to maintain rule of law and democratic governance around the world. He shared his optimism that their partnership will be a game changer in The Gambia’s maritime security regime, which is long overdue.
He acknowledged the relentless commitment of President Adama Barrow in empowering and supporting law enforcement institutions at all times by encouraging innovation and implementing the highest standard of professionalism. He thanked the SEACOP project for choosing the Gambia and the EU for funding the project.
Also speaking at the event, Dominique Bucas, Director of SEACOP, said West Africa is targeted by criminal networks seeking to smuggle large quantities of cocaine into the region for storage before shipping it back to Europe by various means (land, air, and sea). He said for years, through several programs, the European Union committed itself to supporting the fight against global criminality, including drug trafficking.
“Among these programs, the global illicit flows program (GIFP), gather different project dedicated to this response against trafficking affecting the health of our citizen, our economies, our security, and our environment.
“Among the GIFP project, the “Seaport Cooperation Project” – phase V financed by the European Union (EU) under the Global Illicit Flow program, is implemented by Expertise France (EF) in partnership with Fundación Internacional y para Iberoamérica de Administración y Políticas Públicas (FIIAPP),” he explained.
Speaking further, SEACOP Director said with the aforesaid agreement, the SEACOP project will facilitate the establishment of a Maritime Intelligence Unit which will identify vessels likely to be involved in illicit trafficking, as well as a Maritime Control Unit responsible for carrying out vessel and container controls.
“In particular, the Control Unit will be equipped by the SEACOP project with appropriate personal security equipment. Training and mentoring will be carried out in this respect,” Dominique Bucas said.
Mr. Lamin J. Gassama, Director of Intelligence, and International Cooperation at DLEAG, welcomed the partnership, saying the project will help strengthen their fight against drug and drug-related cases.
“With support from the National Narcotics Intelligence Analysis Center (NIAC), operations at the seaport will be intelligence-led to ensure efficiency and effectiveness in cargo targeting and search. This will guarantee a fair balance between the speedy facilitation of trade and crime interdiction,” he said.