Growing Concern in West Africa

The recent kidnapping of two American citizens from an off-shore resupply vessel 15 miles off the coast of Nigeria highlights the risks that seafarers face in the Gulf of Guinea. 

Maritime Piracy is a Growing Concern in West Africa

The recent kidnapping of two American citizens from an off-shore resupply vessel 15 miles off the coast of Nigeria highlights the risks that seafarers and oil workers face in the Gulf of Guinea. The attack on the C-Retriever off the coast of Nigeria did not follow the typical model where refined oil products are targets, but appeared to share similarities with the hostage-taking model common off the Horn of Africa. Jon Huggins, the Director of Oceans Beyond Piracy commented that, “It is too early to tell whether the trend of taking hostages will continue, but this latest attack, and its apparent targeting of Americans is raising already heightened concerns about the growing danger to shipping there.”

Statistics from the International Maritime Bureau show that piracy rates on the west coast increased 30% in the first nine months of this year, even as the rate of reported Somali-based piracy has dropped by around 80% over the past 3 years. The 2012 Oceans Beyond Piracy Report on the Human Cost of Maritime Piracy marked a new trend in which more seafarers (966) faced pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea than off the coast of Somalia. As of 30 September 2013, 40 separate attacks were reported against shipping vessels in the Gulf of Guinea resulting in seven hijacking incidents, 132 persons held hostage aboard hijacked vessels, and 34 seafarers and oil workers kidnapped and held on shore (up from five in 2012). Traditionally West African hijackings target refined product tankers where the pirates seek to steal the cargo to sell on the black market. However, recently there has been an increase in the kidnapping of hostages for ransoms, imitating the Somali pirate business model. Hostages are typically held on the ship for an average of 4 days (the time it takes to off-load the cargo). There is also a greater degree of violence in the initial attack. The attackers off the west coast also typically use brute force to intimidate hostages, which led to 5 seafarers or security personnel reportedly killed in 2012. The number of seafarers taken ashore and held for ransom increased significantly from 2012, when only five people were reported as kidnapped. The 24 October kidnapping of two American seafarers is yet another example of the increasing risk that seafarers face in the region.

Suppressing piracy in West Africa has proven to be a particular challenge since some of the key elements that contributed to the dramatic reduction of piracy attacks off the Horn of Africa cannot be duplicated here: (1) International coalitions of naval warships are not available to patrol the region due to sovereignty concerns of regional nations; (2) private security companies that have successfully guarded transiting ships off the Horn of Africa are not welcome in the territorial waters of West Africa; and (3) the best management practices used by the maritime industry to guard vessels in the Indian Ocean are not universally applied, nor would they necessarily be as effective for vessels that must enter and loiter in this dangerous area.

Nations in the Gulf of Guinea, supported by the international community, have focused on high-level meetings to foster regional cooperation. These meetings included the recent Head of State Summit in Cameroon in June, where the Code of Conduct for the Gulf of Guinea was signed. However, these efforts have not yet resulted in firm implementation, as illustrated by the growing number of attacks.

“Piracy off the Coast of Somalia was quickly and effectively addressed through international cooperation amongst maritime stakeholders while west-coast piracy, was typically defined as ‘armed robbery at sea’ to be dealt with by regional governments.” Said Huggins, “While no one is suggesting that the same amount of infrastructure is required to fight piracy off West Africa, there needs to be better cooperation mechanisms to ensure improved information sharing and reporting of incidents, more active cooperation between regional navies, and a firmer commitment to arrest and prosecute offenders.”

Source: Oceans Beyond Piracy.

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