The African Union has adopted a charter to raise security off the continent's economically key coasts. Piracy and illegal fishing have cost the maritime industry billions of dollars in recent decades, the AU said.
Over 40 nations in the African Union (AU) signed a binding deal on Saturday in an effort to combat widespread maritime crime which threatens the development of their economies.
Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta said the deal showcased Africa's ability to agree a continent-wide strategy, while Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso hailed the AU charter as "historic."
Leaders met in Lome, Tongo for the talks which drew 18 heads of state - an unusually high number for an AU meeting - signaling the importance African leaders are placing on the need to curb piracy, illegal fishing, smuggling and other crimes at sea.
Around 90 percent of Africa's imports and exports are transported via the sea, making maritime security crucial for the continent's economic success, noted Chad's President and current AU chief Idriss Deby at the start of the summit. Out of the AU's 54 member states, 38 nations have coastlines.
At least 15 countries must ratify Saturday's deal before it can come into effect.
Pact against piracy
Under the agreement, nations will pay into a special fund for maritime security. The deal will also strengthen cooperation and streamline information-sharing between African nations. Pirates have exploited weak cooperation between African governments in the past, sailing through territorial waters with little trouble.
AU chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma praised the deal on Twitter, urging that the development of economic and social ties in the maritime sector "must be upped to secure these important assets."
Saturday's charter also pledges to preserve the environment and cut down on large-scale illegal fishing. Piracy and illicit fishing have cost the continent's maritime industry hundreds of billions of dollars in the last few decades, according to the AU.
Piracy has been on the decline globally since 2012, after the launch of international naval patrols off the coast of East Africa in response to attacks by Somalia-based pirates.
A new group of pirates in the Gulf of Guinea, comprised of offshoots from militant groups from the Niger Delta, has been the focus of concern recently.
rs/kl (AFP, Reuters)