An Emerging Threat?

In many ways the Gulf of Guinea is a perfect incubator for piracy. Surrounded by some of Africa’s most proficient oil producers the Gulf is a major transit route for oil tankers on their way to international markets.

An Emerging Threat? Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea

By Rick “Ozzie” Nelson, Aaron Ware, Center for Strategic and International Studies

On August 4, armed pirates launched a deadly assault against an oil barge off the coast of Africa, killing two guards and kidnapping four sailors in the process. However, this violence was not perpetrated by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden, but by pirates operating on the other side of the African continent in the Gulf of Guinea.

Home to a number of weak, oil-rich states, West Africa has seen a steady growth in pirate attacks in recent years, with reported incidents of piracy increasing 42 percent in 2011. Given the Gulf of Guinea’s relative economic importance, this piracy, if left unchecked, may have a surprising impact not only regionally, but globally.

Q1: What is driving piracy in the Gulf of Guinea?
A1: The Gulf of Guinea is, in many ways, a perfect incubator for piracy, providing both resources and safe haven. Surrounded by some of Africa’s most proficient oil producers, including Nigeria, Angola, Gabon, Ghana, and Equatorial Guinea, the Gulf is a major transit route for oil tankers on their way to international markets. These tankers have proven valuable prey for pirates. Unlike Somali pirates, who focus on the ransom of captured crew members, pirates in the Gulf of Guinea derive much of their income from the theft of oil. These pirates will frequently hijack a tanker, siphon the oil to another vessel, and later resell it on the local black market. In addition to the hijacking of cargo ships containing goods such as cocoa and minerals, this steady supply of tankers provides pirates in the Gulf a lucrative source of income.

In addition to serving as a source of revenue, the under-governed states surrounding the Gulf provide pirates ready safe haven from which to operate, both on land and at sea. Faced with widespread poverty, rampant corruption, and an inability to fully control their territory, many of these nations rank among the most dysfunctional in the world. As a result, criminal elements—including but not limited to pirates—have little difficulty establishing and maintaining on-shore bases where they can plan and launch operations. Further, given that many of the states surrounding the Gulf lack significant maritime capabilities, there are few local forces available to combat piracy at sea. Even when states such as Nigeria are able to implement maritime counter-piracy initiatives, many pirates simply move their operations to the waters of weaker states such as Benin. This easy access to sanctuary, as well as the steady flow of oil through the region, has allowed piracy to flourish in the Gulf.

Q2: What is the impact of this piracy?
A2: The international community has increasingly taken note of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea due to the growing threat this activity represents, not only to the lives of sailors, but to both the regional and global economy. Due to the fact that they derive their profits from the sale of oil and other goods rather than the ransoming of hostages, pirates in the Gulf of Guinea have proven to be significantly more violent than their Somali counterparts. Vessels are frequently sprayed with……[access full article]

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