Asahi ShimbunAbout 10 minutes after heading out into the harbor in a boat, a group
of a dozen or so oil tanks came into view along the coastline. A large
oil tanker was moored in front of them.
Sunday, June 09, 2013
“That’s our vessel,” said Omar Osman, a member of Djibouti’s
fledgling coast guard and our guide, as he pointed to a small boat about
seven meters in length.
"Garde-côtes" (coast guard) was written in French along the
hull. The boat had no roof, and just a solitary crew member sitting in
the stern. Comparing it to the size of the oil tanker was like comparing
an ant to an elephant.
“The oil tanks are the most important facility in the harbor. We guard them 24/7,” said a proud Osman, puffing out his chest.
Djibouti is located at the entrance to the Red Sea,
sandwiched between the African continent and the Arabian Peninsula. It
occupies a strategic location near some of the world’s busiest shipping
lanes where ships traversing the Suez Canal connect Europe, Asia and
Africa. Two and a half years have now passed since this tiny country of
900,000 decided to create its own coast guard at the end of 2010.
Lt. Col. Wais Bogoreh, 45, appointed coast guard commandant
by Djibouti’s president, said he was “disappointed” with the assignment.
In 22 years with the navy, Bogoreh had worked his way up to the number
three spot and had his sights set on becoming the navy’s commanding
“I was transferred from the armed forces to the Ministry of
Transport. Even though it’s a new organization, it had no equipment,
headquarters or human resources,” lamented Bogoreh.
The primary reason Djibouti created the coast guard was as an
anti-piracy measure. Due to civil war, neighboring Somalia had become a
lawless area and piracy offshore had increased. Renowned as a pirate
haven, Southeast Asia recorded 54 incidents of piracy in 2008. In the
same year, however, there were 111 incidents reported off the coast of
Somalia, and for three consecutive years since 2009, more than 200
incidents annually have been reported off its coast.
After the international community created an
information-sharing network based on a U.N. Security Council resolution
adopted in 2009, the United States and France, which maintain bases in
Djibouti, and other countries such as Russia, China and India, along
with the European Union, sent navy warships to the seas off Somalia to
protect and escort merchant ships. Personnel and ships from Japan’s
Maritime Self-Defense Force are also currently based in Djibouti.
Based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,
in international waters, any country has the right to crack down on
pirates who are called an “enemy of all humankind.” However, since
piracy is positioned as a criminal offense, police officials, not the
navy, are tasked with their arrest, investigation and implementation of
legal action. Though there are some countries that have given their
navies police powers, in Japan’s case, such work is the duty of its
coast guard. As such, eight officers from the Japan Coast Guard working
six-month shifts are always stationed onboard Maritime Self-Defense
Force escort ships.
In order to strengthen crackdowns on offenses such as piracy,
smuggling and suspicious shipping, Djibouti also thought it needed a
separate law enforcement agency in addition to its navy. The primary
reason behind the move is that it is easier to advance international
cooperation, such as information sharing, through police agencies,
rather than naval organizations.
“As a sovereign state, the desire to protect one’s own seas and port facilities by one’s self was strong,” said Bogoreh.
The port is vital to the well-being of Djibouti’s economy.
Being an arid country, the nation’s lands are not suited to agriculture,
and its manufacturing industry is not well developed. That leaves
transit trade as its principal industry. A lot of cargo destined for
neighboring Ethiopia, a landlocked country of 85 million with an economy
30 times larger, transits through the country’s main port.
Though Djibouti’s coast guard has boarded about 50 suspicious
ships and detained roughly 7,000 illegal immigrants to date, it is a
very small operation. There are only 145 uniformed members and it only
has nine ships, four of which were donated by Japan, the United States
and France. Its largest ship is only 11 meters in length, and the
organization does not have enough communications equipment to cover all
the territorial waters it patrols. Through the Japan International
Cooperation Agency (JICA), Japan’s coast guard plans to continue
cooperating with Djibouti on matters such as in training its personnel.
Makoto Tatsumiya, deputy director of the Japan Coast Guard’s
anti-piracy office, spoke of his expectations. Tatsumiya, who escorted
four self-proclaimed Somali pirates back to Japan to stand trial in
2011, said, “Even if foreign countries arrest and work to drive away
pirates from a particular country’s coastline, it’s like a game of
‘whack a mole.’ There is meaning in making sure countries in the region
have the capability to stop suspicious ships transiting their
Since last year, new developments with pirates operating in
the waters off of Africa have been seen. While pirate activity has
dropped drastically off the coast of Somalia, it is picking up farther
south along the coast of Mozambique and offshore of Nigeria on the
western side of the continent. Both of these are resource-exporting
countries supporting economic growth in Africa, and the spread of piracy
to these areas is further raising concerns.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO), a specialized
agency of the United Nations, is setting up a maritime security regional
training center in Djibouti. “Somalia is normalizing. Should they
decide to create a coast guard, we would like to leverage our experience
and cooperate,” said Bogoreh.
The country encompasses a total land area of 23,200 square
kilometers, making it about one and a half times the size of Iwate
Prefecture. It won its independence from France in 1977, and its
official languages are French and Arabic. Its demographics are split
about equally between the Issas tribe, originating from Somalia, and the
Ethiopian Afar tribe. These peoples faced off in civil war until peace
was achieved in 2001.