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West African Piracy Problem Without Solution

March 18, 2013 - 10:56:45 UTC

West African piracy problem without solution

Original source: Soefartens Ledere (Danish Maritime Officers)

Pirate situation in the Gulf of Guinea is becoming very serious, and even though the international community has become aware of the problems, it remains without a coordinated solution. Meanwhile, the threat from the West African pirates goes up costing both the region and shipowners - and gives the seafarers' legitimate concerns. 

By Jakob Wandel | 29 89 00 98 | jw@soefartens.org

On 9 September 2012, at approximately 18:35 Danish time, the Danish-flagged tanker, Torm Gertrud, was attacked by pirates off Lagos, Nigeria. Heavily armed pirates pursued the ship and fired their weapons to force it to stop. Captain of the tanker sounded the alarm, sped up, made evasive manoeuvres and sent all non-essential crew to safety in the ship's citadel. Pirates tried repeatedly to get on board, but had, as a result of the Captain's manoeuvres, eventually abandoned the hijacking attempt. No crew members were injured during the attack, but the ship bore clear marks from pirates' bullets. This violent attack on Torm Gertrud was just one of many pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea in 2012, and, so far, all crews have managed to escape the heavily armed criminals.

In entirety, 63 tugs, supply vessels, cargo ships, tankers and container ships were, according to research firm Risk Intelligence, in 2012 attacked by pirates or criminals in West Africa with success. In addition, an unknown number of local trawlers and boats, of which attacks are rarely reported.

Largely unknown

Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has been a known problem since the 1970s, but the problem has developed since the turn of the millennium, where smaller vessels servicing the offshore industry in Nigeria, have had to live with this serious threat. With time, the pirates have become more aggressive and better armed and in 2011 there were 74 attacks on large merchant ships in the area from Senegal to Congo. Many attacks are not reported to the international authorities, which is why the volume is supposedly much larger. Tankers hijacked primarily for the pirates to steal the cargo and other property on board, while kidnappings of crew members from smaller vessels is primarily a problem in the Niger Delta. Hijacked tanker diverted from Nigeria, Togo, Benin and Ivory Coast and subsequently robbed of diesel or petrol reloaded to smaller, local tankers in an area explored Nigeria.

Cost to both the region and maritime is expensive

Piracy in West Africa has a very negative effect on legitimate maritime traffic in the region, including Togo, Benin, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria. It is reported, for example, that activities in Benin's main port city and the de facto capital, Cotonou, in 2012 was more than halved compared to the previous, as a result of piracy threat in the Gulf of Guinea. The cost of piracy is also expensive for shipping. It is assessed that the stolen cargo, insurance and security measures, including the use of armed guards, annually cost carriers in the region of $ 2 billion USD.

Budding international focus

The increasing number of reported pirate attacks in West Africa have finally got the issue on the international agenda. In November 2011 the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, set up a working group with the aim to investigate the problem. As a result, it was recognized that there is a need for comprehensive efforts across national borders, to combat piracy in the region, and that it will need additional, technical and logistical assistance from the international community. This realization has not yet resulted in any real, coordinated, international effort.

The views expressed are those of the Danish Maritime Officers contributor and do not necessarily reflect those of OCEANUSLive.

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