The Gulf of Guinea remains a hot spot for piracy, accounting for the vast majority of sea-going hostage seizures and kidnappings globally, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).
Earlier this month, 10 Turkish sailors were seized by pirates off the coast of Nigeria and reportedly are being held for ransom.
This week, maritime experts and naval officers from across the Gulf of Guinea and elsewhere are gathered in Ghana’s capital, Accra, seeking ways to improve marine defense and fight piracy.
While piracy remains a serious problem, with 21 incidents reported this year, that is an improvement over the first half of 2018, which saw 31 attacks. IMB says the decrease in pirate attacks follows an increase in Nigerian Navy patrols.
Nigerian Navy Rear Admiral EE Aneke says Nigeria’s anti-piracy efforts are paying off.
“We attribute it to the efforts the Navy has done in the past three years,” Aneke said. “It has reviewed its operating methods and there are some specific actions taken by the chief to ensure the zone is secure, so of course those actions have yielded results. So we will also make an effort to also refine those efforts because the criminal elements will find new methods to adopt to evade, so we make sure we are upgrading our own patrol efforts and processes.”
Angolan Rear Admiral Narciso Fastudo Jr. says Nigeria’s efforts are a good start, but further progress depends on standardizing anti-piracy laws across the region.
“If we harmonize, we will get all concerned international conventions in our laws, we will help balance the way to deal with criminality,” he said.
Dr. Kamal-Deen Ali, executive director for the Center for Maritime Law and Security Africa, says piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is a complex and evolving threat.
He links today’s piracy around West Africa to Nigeria’s Niger Delta, where the economic and environmental impacts of oil production have sparked violence.
Some of those who fought against the government and oil companies in the area were granted amnesty and put down their arms, Ali said, while others were left out and instead of refined their piracy skills.
“So when you take away the high-level insurgencies who were settled through the amnesty process and laid down their arms, the middle and bottom insurgents then had to look for something else to do,” Ali said. “So after having gained the skill of having occasionally attacked vessels since 2006, that skill was transformed, built up and scaled up into full-scale piracy from 2012.”
Whatever the cause of piracy, experts agree it will take combined and common approaches across nations to make the shipping lanes safe for commerce and crews.