CAPE TOWN, Representatives from 13 African countries and international organizations are gathered in Stellenbosch, near here, for the first International Workshop on Combating Transnational Threats aimed at fostering better co-operation among countries in the fight against maritime crime.

The workshop, which is jointly organized by the Security Institute for Governance and Leadership in Africa and the United States Defence Threat Reduction Agency, is aimed at, among other objectives, establishing closer working relationships as the ocean economies of African countries are having to contend with an increasing rise in transnational organized crime.

In recent years, the traditional route used to traffic heroin has been disrupted by the war in Syria and traffickers are now using the Indian Ocean route along Africa's east coast. The United Nations estimates that as much as 60 per cent of heroin coming from Afghanistan and destined for Europe, is now trafficked this way, adding immense pressure and burdens on African countries to combat the scourge.

The smuggling of migrants from North Africa to Europe and illegal fishing along the continent's coast have become almost impossible to combat. The vastness of the ocean makes it extremely difficult.

Alan Cole, the Head of Global Maritime Crime Programme of the UN Office on Drugs & Crime (UNODC) says: "It is the case that any State will have a much better understanding of criminal trends on land because it happens much closer to them, what happens beyond 12 nautical miles and that distance is critical because that's where the State's criminal jurisdiction usually end in most cases.

"Beyond 12 nautical miles it's difficult to get there, you need naval vessels to do it, you'll never have enough naval vessels to be everywhere in the way you can with police cars in a city so it is the case that we have much less understanding what's going on out at sea and tend to try and disrupt it on land when it's too late."

The delegates this week will be highlightig areas of concern, thrashing out ideas, research areas and possibly working relationships.

Captain Mark Blaine, a researcher at the Security Institute for Governance and Leadership in Africa says: "The aim is to get together the different stakeholders on a higher level to get them together to talk about the governance issues in the maritime sphere, but specifically to look at co-operation -- international co-operation, capacity building and enforcement to get the policy behind that in place -- so that we can present that to government or to agencies to implement at a later stage."

The pillaging of fish stocks along the African coast, mostly by foreign countries, is another major headache. But South Africa has had successful co-operation with countries like the United States in arresting and prosecuting criminals.

Robert Hopkins of the Defence Threat Reduction Agency says: "We understand that South Africa has a very significant capability in the maritime realm which is actually unusual for some of our other partners in Africa. So we really look towards South Africa as a leader in the region on maritime security and so in that respect there's a lot of opportunity for US and South Africa Corporation but thus far the work has been very collaborative and we look forward to improved and heightened activities in the future."