Gulf of Guinea piracy incidents have reached new heights this year, reveals a security report by the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau (IMB). As per IMB’s report, crew kidnapping in the region accounted for 95% of the world’s crew kidnappings.
135 crew kidnappings happened all over the world in 2020. Of which the Gulf of Guinea alone had 95% share.
Appeal for Military Assistance
The report comes at a time when several countries have appealed to the Nigerian Government to deploy the military to curtail this surge in pirate attacks and kidnappings along the West African coast.
Head of Marine Standards at Copenhagen-based Maersk, Aslak Ross, said,” the risk has reached a level where effective military capacity needs to be deployed, adding that it is unacceptable in this age that seafarers cannot perform their jobs of ensuring a vital supply chain for the region without having to worry about the risk of piracy”.
In 2021,a fresh attack happened on a Maersk vessel where their containership was attacked twice in 4hours.
2020 witnessed 195 incidents of piracy and armed robbery which was a stark rise from 162 attacks in 2019.
A rise in piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea caused this overall rise in global piracy where 3 vessels hijacked, 11 fired upon, 20 attempted attacks and 161 boarded by pirates in 2020. Apart from the Gulf of Guinea, armed robberies in Singapore Straits also played a role in the rise of global ship piracy incidents.
Gulf of Guinea Incidents Dangerous
“Globally, 135 crews were kidnapped from their vessels in 2020, with the Gulf of Guinea accounting for over 95%of crew numbers kidnapped. A record 130 crew members were kidnapped in 22 separate incidents. Since 2019, the Gulf of Guinea has experienced an unprecedented rise in the number of multiple crew kidnappings. In the last quarter of 2019 alone, the Gulf of Guinea recorded 39 kidnappings in two separate incidents”, says the report.
According to the IMB report “incidents in the Gulf of Guinea are particularly dangerous, as over 80% of attackers were armed with guns”
“All three vessel hijackings and nine of the 11 vessels fired upon in 2020 related to this region. Crew kidnappings were reported in 25% of vessel attacks in the Gulf of Guinea – more than any other region in the world.”
Pirates Getting Advanced
This rise shows how advanced the pirates of the region have become. Because of this, IMB has advised vessels to remain 250 Nautical Miles away from the coast at all times or until the time it can commence cargo operations at safe berth or anchorage.
Director of the ICC International Maritime Bureau. Michael Howlett, said: “The latest statistics confirms the increased capabilities of pirates in the Gulf of Guinea with more and more attacks taking place further from the coast. This is a worrying trend that can only be resolved through increased information exchange and coordination between vessels, reporting and response agencies in the Gulf of Guinea Region”.
“Despite prompt action by navies in the region, there remains an urgent need to address this crime, which continues to have a direct impact on the safety and security of innocent seafarers,” he said.
The attacks have prompted insurers to hike rates for ships transiting in the region and adding extra clauses for protection. Even shipping giants like Maersk which controls 15% of global freight have expressed concern about the rising cost and high insurance for vessels transiting in West Africa.
Attack Spreading Out
The Executive Director of the Accra-based Centre for Maritime Law and Security Africa and a former Ghanaian naval officer, Kamal-Deen Ali, said,” while the West African attacks were initially concentrated offshore Nigeria, they have since spread to waters off Benin, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Togo and Cameroon”.
Commenting on the issue, a Senior Analyst at Denmark-based Risk Intelligence, Dirk Siebels, said, ” the number of violent attacks in the Gulf of Guinea has remained fairly consistent in the past decade, as abduction of more than 10 people has become increasingly common”.
More Than 15 Bands Operating in the Region
A partner at London-based maritime security firm, Dryad Global, Munro Anderson, said, “the perpetrators of such incidents are aware there is almost no risk of being caught, adding that this is precisely the kind of incident an international naval coalition could mitigate”.
A professor of Criminal Risk Management at France’s EDHEC Business School, Bertrand Monnet, who had studied piracy in the Niger Delta region for 15 years, estimated that a maximum of 15 bands operate offshore West Africa, each comprising 20-50 members.
Commissioning More Vigilance
The pirates usually held the hostages for ransom in a regional powerhouse where attacks can be prevented. The government is boosting search operations in this region by commissioning nearly $200 million of new equipment in 2021, including helicopters, drones and high-speed boats.
The Liberian Shipowners’ Council, Secretary-General, Kierstin Del Valle Lachtman, however, urged to improve employment opportunities in the impoverished coastal region to address the issue as it’s a long term solution.
National Govts Should Monitor Their Territories
The Head of maritime security at the Baltic and International Maritime Council, a Copenhagen-based shipowners’ group, Jakob Larsen, said, “if national governments focus on their territorial waters, that is, the 12 nautical miles from their shores, major naval powers could reduce piracy further afield in the gulf by deploying two or three frigates equipped with helicopters”.
However, this might be unlikely as sea routes are not that important for the African east coast. “There is little international appetite for getting involved in Nigeria’s security problems”, he added
The Commander of the Nigerian Navy’s western fleet, Rear-Admiral Oladele Daji, said “Nigeria will ensure that this menace of piracy is eliminated from our waters so that those with legitimate business in shipping, fishing, as well as oil and gas can go about their business without fear.”