South Africa

Study: Africa leads in illegal drug smuggling, piracy, fishing

Seychelles forces free Sri Lankan boat hijacked by Somali pirates

According to a 2023 study by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), “the ocean is likely the world’s most extensive transnational crime scene”.

And African waters are leading the pack in a “tide of illegal, unreported and unregulated drug smuggling, piracy and fishing by regional and international criminals taking advantage of poverty and corruption” on the continent.

ALSO READ: Danish oil tanker crew kidnapped off West Africa rescued

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime also released studies which highlight how SA, in particular, was the leading destination for criminal activities, ranked seventh globally and third for cocaine trade on the continent, with drug smugglers preferring the open seas as a conduit .

In recent years, a litany of studies has been focused on the inflow of crystal meth through SA harbours from Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan.

South Africa has become an attractive and lucrative drug transit country. Furthermore, the post-1994 relaxation of strict land, air and sea borders triggered the increase in drug trafficking and enabled the transit of illicit drugs.

This is compounded by an unprecedented increase of Pakistani and Afghanistan “asylum seekers” into SA without monitoring of the motive for entry into SA.

Curtailing illegal activities emanating from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran that use the Indian Ocean maritime routes requires urgent collaboration with Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries to ensure a safer Africa and the world.

India, as a member of Brics, which borders all the above mentioned countries, will hopefully play a critical role to help Africa and SA intercept drugs before they leave Asia.

The significance of the western Indian Ocean larger maritime safety and security agenda on the African continent was elucidated by Prof Assis Malaquias, who is the academic chair of defence economics and resource management at the Africa Centre in Washington DC.

He said that African national and regional security strategies have centred on land-based threats. This is not sustainable, given that 38 African countries are either coastal or island states and only 16 are landlocked.

ALSO READ: Pakistan-Afghan border crossing reopens after negotiations

A 2023 study by Prof Francois Vreÿ and his colleagues at Stellenbosch University concluded the SA maritime sector remains largely overlooked and over shadowed by land-based considerations.

Operation Phakisa, launched in 2014 for maritime sector reform and capacity building, remains theoretical, with applications to extract value from oceans lagging behind.

African member states, including the African Union and Brics, have not invested enough resources and technologies to police waters off Asia where large quantities of narcotics originate.

At the 15th Brics Summit, all the member countries committed to joint efforts to promote stability to advance development and the agenda of the global south.

Surely, this commitment must be seen with evidence of narcotics no longer entering our communities.

These interventions must also include intelligence and safeguarding of poor areas, especially where suspected groups have integrated into communities and are possibly using them to foster a terrorist agenda using drug trafficking as one of the means.

The December 2022 incident at Naval Base Simon’s Town involving the Russian cargo ship, Lady R, is a classic example of how SA seas are poorly protected.

ALSO READ: US says intercepted Iran weapons shipment to Yemen rebels

That the government had to set up an investigative panel to get to the bottom of it shows our maritime industry is open to abuse and corruption.

Just like the Lady R episode, where those operating the ship allegedly shut down its tracking system, what stops the same from happening with ships carrying illicit drugs?

What stops Islamic terror groups from infiltrating SA via vessels?

Pakistani nationals now dominate the local spaza shop industry and its entire value chain. Most of these “asylum seekers” could be organised underworld syndicates.

National interest and the safety of South Africans must be given priority and much more needs to be done.

• Dladla and Phasha are from the Centre for Alternative Political and Economic Thought