The ungoverned seas

Fears many incidents off West Africa go unreported. 

The ungoverned seas

The waters around Somalia are calmer, but piracy in west Africa is rising

STICK-SLIM and still, Captain Lube sits in Lagos’s commercial fishing harbour, watching his crew clean a rusting shrimp trawler. He used to look forward to guiding them out to the rough Atlantic waters. But nowadays he has grown too afraid to venture far from the coast. Pirates infest west Africa’s seas, and he has seen many fellow captains kidnapped and sometimes killed. He has become jumpy; every approaching vessel might pose a danger. The trawling company for which he works says that attacks last year were “too many to count”.

Just a few years ago the most dangerous waters in the world were off the coast of Somalia. But piracy there has fallen dramatically. It is more than two years since Somali pirates last successfully boarded a ship. At their peak in 2011, attacks were taking place almost daily. The number of attempts has fallen to a handful every month. Now it is the Gulf of Guinea that is the worst piracy hotspot, accounting for 19% of attacks worldwide, as recorded by the International Maritime Bureau. It registers an attack nearly every week (see map). The numbers are probably underestimates. America’s Office of Naval Intelligence reckons the real figure is more than twice as large—and growing.

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