The Seaport Cooperation (SEACOP) is a European Union (EU) funded initiative to support West Africa in the fight against organised criminalities at the maritime domain. The project has been set up in few West African countries; including Sierra Leone, Ghana, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Guinea Bissau, The Gambia, Cape Verde etc in order to increase maritime vigilance against illicit trafficking and other organised criminalities by targeting suspicious vessels and containerized cargo.
In early 2013, the EU and the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) held initial discussions on setting up a SEACOP Project in Sierra Leone. This resulted to the setting up of a SEACOP Team in Sierra Leone under an integrated command, using the Transnational Organised Crime Unit’s (TOCU) structure.
Sadly, the Ebola outbreak in 2014 stalled the process. However, in 2015, the EU’s implementing partner, Foundacion International for Political and Public (FIIAPP) re-energised the process by providing search tools, office equipment, communications gadgets and safety gears for the team. The FIIAPP was again taken over by a new implementing partner; Expertise France following the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU. Since taking over from FIIAPP, Expertise France had demonstrated an impressive commitment to taking the process forward by replacing obsolete equipment and providing both internal and external capacity training on key technicalities for SEAOCP operatives.
The project is based at the Queen Elizabeth II Quay, housed by the Sierra Leone Ports Authority on a structure donated to the team by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency and refurbished by the Office of National Security.
Furthermore, being a new implementing partner, Expertise France and GoSL, through the ONS developed an MoU in order to officially foster mutual cooperation and deepen the partnership. After a series of painstaking work on developing the MoU, the SEACOP project in collaboration with the Steering Committee slated a date for the official signing the said MoU.
Consequently, on Friday, 11th November, 2022, the SEACOP MoU was signed between GoSL (represented by the National Security Coordinator; Mr. Abdulai Caulker and the SEACOP Regional Coordinator; Mr. Eric Wiart at a ceremony held at the Conference Room of the Office of National Security, Tower Hill, Freetown.
The Chief of Staff, ONS; Mr. Francis Langumba Keili made the welcome address and assured Expertise France of Sierra Leone’s commitment to the implementation and success of the SEACOP Project in Sierra Leone.
The National Security Coordinator, Office of National Security; Mr. Abdulai Caulker who chaired the meeting expressed thanks and appreciation to Expertise France for the support to Sierra Leone in the fight against organised criminalities. He further stated that strengthening the maritime domain is critical in successfully curbing organised criminal activities as rogue elements always have the tendency of taking advantage of the vulnerabilities existing at the sea borders and carrying out their nefarious activities at the detriment of national security.
The NSCoord outlined the successes of the SECAOP project albeit being a new project in Sierra Leone. The NSCoord informed the meeting that since its inception to date, the SEACOP Team in Sierra Leone has conducted very successful SEACOP operations at the Queen Elizabeth II Quay resulting in seizures of prohibited drugs/narcotics, illicit cargo, contrabands, firearms and light weapons and the arrests and prosecutions of drug traffickers.
The NSCoord therefore emphasized on the relevance of the SEACOP project to Sierra Leone’s fight against illicit activities and recognized the level of interagency cooperation and collaboration which the SEACOP project is currently enjoying. He assured the EU, and Expertise France of Sierra Leone’s commitment to the success of SEACOP and opined that the success of SEACOP is predicated upon the expertise of the operatives. He therefore ended by appealing to the project’s implementing partners to continue providing both internal and external training opportunities in order to enhance the capacities of the operatives.
In his statement, the Charge de Affairs of France, representing the EU SEACOP assured members of their total commitment and unflinching support to the Government of Sierra Leone for the successful implementation of the SEACOP project in Sierra Leone. He gave a brief, but detailed background to the SEACOP project and stated that other countries in West Africa are beneficiaries of the project. The EU SEACOP representative also mentioned the trainings that have been provided for SEACOP Sierra Leone operatives and highlighted this serves as a testament of their commitment to supporting the project. The most recent capacity training session was on Advance Vessel Rummaging, which objective is to enhance the skills of SEACOP operatives to effectively search vessels for concealed illicit materials. There will be follow up practical exercises to perfect the skills already acquired.
Members of the steering committee were ushered in to make brief statements on the general perspective of SEACOP in Sierra Leone and this was followed by a presentation of certificates which was done by the SEACOP Regional Coordinator, Mr. Eric Wiart and his team.
The meeting was climaxed by the official signing of the SEACOP MoU between the Government of Sierra Leone and SEACOP-Expertise France. The NSCoord; Mr. Abdulai Caulker signed on behalf of the Government of Sierra Leone and the SEACOP Regional Coordinator; Mr. Eric Wiart signed on behalf of Expertise France and team Europe.
The vote of thanks was offered by the Deputy Director Serious Organised Crime and Counterterrorism Coordination Directorate; Mr. Shek Amed Bah, followed by a group photo signalling the close of the session.