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Piracy’s Emerging Market: The Gulf of Guinea

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August 8, 2011

Gulf of Guinea map– By David Rider, Neptune Maritime Security

Despite the best efforts of the world’s navies and EU NAVFOR in particular, piracy in the Indian Ocean/Gulf of Aden and Red Sea areas shows no sign of abating. Quite the contrary, according to a report released by the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre in July this year. Of the incidents reported, over sixty per cent were conducted by pirate gangs operating off the coast of Somalia and Arabian Sea. Indeed, the attacks were becoming more violent and pirates were taking much greater risks, the IMB stated.

The success of Somali pirates has not gone unnoticed by criminals in other parts of the African continent.

Since May this year, there have been increasing reports of pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) and off the coast of West Africa. The incidents prompted the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre to issue a specific warning in June, citing eight attacks off Cotonou, Benin. Since then, the number of attacks has increased significantly, although it’s virtually impossible to accurately gauge the amount of pirate activity due to insufficient reporting from the region. One security analyst told Reuters that, “In Nigeria it is estimated that approximately 60 percent of pirate attacks go unreported”*.

The Gulf of Guinea is regarded as an important, emerging trade hub, spanning a dozen countries from the tip of Northwest Africa to Angola in the South. It is a valuable source of oil, and pirates in the region are currently targeting diesel and oil tankers in particular.
According to a Reuters report*, the Gulf of Guinea produces more than 3 million barrels of oil a day, equivalent to 4% of the global total. This oil is ultimately destined for Europe and the USA, while some sources suggest that the USA will be receiving up to 25% of its oil supplies from the region by 2015*.

With so much potentially at stake it is perhaps remarkable that little is being done on the international stage to combat piracy in the region. Local coastal defences are seen as weak, while the coastline itself is craggy and offers a variety of hiding places for potential attackers. Although thus far, only 27 or so attacks on vessels in the area have been reported by the IMB, the actual number incidents may be far higher, thanks primarily to the definition of ‘piracy’.

pirate boatSomali pirates operate a ‘blue ocean’ form of piracy, attacking vessels in international waters, which in turn means their crimes are legally recognised as “acts of piracy”. The attacks in the Gulf of Guinea and off the coast of Nigeria occur in national or coastal waters, and therefore do not legally qualify as “acts of piracy”. Semantics aside, if armed men board your vessel and threaten your crew and cargo, it is hard to not call it an act of piracy. However, the law is the law.

At its most basic, piracy off the coast of Somalia can be seen as having a clear root in economics and the inevitable outcome of a failed nation state dating back 20 years. Piracy or, more correctly, criminal attacks upon vessels in the Gulf of Guinea region is simply that: maritime banditry in an area insufficiently protected by the world’s navies. Intelligence sources on the ground are now seemingly acknowledging that the attacks in West Africa are very different in tone to their Somali counterparts. A report carried by the Associated Press quoted Bergen Risk Solutions, a Norway-based consultancy:

“Our investigations indicate that the organised group responsible is based in Nigeria and has high-level patronage in that country,” it said, with prominent Nigerians having often been accused of involvement in the lucrative black market for oil and fuel.  This cargo, Bergen suggests, has been sold in: “several West African ports, possibly including Abidjan in Cote d’Ivoire and Port Gentil in Gabon.”

What the experts cannot say with any certainty, however, is why there has been such a surge in attacks in recent months. For instance, the international community has not seen a significant, proportionate fall in such incidents in Nigeria. With no international naval presence at the ready, it falls upon local agencies, such as the Benin Navy, to provide assistance. It has further been suggested that a number
of shipping companies won’t even call them in, for fear of increasing their insurance premiums.

A report on businessday.co.za suggested that, ‘insurance items due to piracy have doubled the costs of transporting goods past the Horn of Africa,’ and there is no reason to believe that West Africa and the GoG should be any different in terms of insurance risk.

In response to the recent spate of activity, Bloomberg* carried a report on August 5, stating that The Joint War Committee, which represents Lloyd’s of London underwriters and other insurers, extended a war-risk zone for Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer,
and included waters off neighbouring Benin and listed the areas as higher-risk for shipping. The Nigerian risk zone now extends to 200 nautical miles (230 miles) offshore.

While the entire region is experiencing significant mineral wealth, it falls upon governments to ensure that this wealth is redistributed amongst the population or, to quote Reuters, “…the temptation to take a slice of the goods passing under their noses on the way to the richer world may prove irresistible for some.”

It would seem clear that the world’s governments, and particularly those countries whose energy usage relies upon imports from the area, could make a significant difference to piracy in this region. At present, the area to police is significantly smaller than that in the
Gulf of Aden/Indian Ocean, which EU NAVFOR vessels regularly patrol, but the level of violence being used by pirates in their attacks in the GoG region is causing deep concern amongst international bodies such as the IMB. A concerted effort by the world’s navies, in league with countries such as Nigeria, Cameroon and Benin could nip the problem in the bud, long before it escalates to proportions rivalling Somalia and the Gulf of Aden.

On August 5th, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) announced that plans had been tabled for maritime administrations in Togo, Republic of Benin and Nigeria to meet with relevant stakeholders to deliberate on ways of enhancing maritime safety in the region*. A spokesperson for Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Lami Tumaka, stated that the Regional Maritime Awareness Capability Centre (RMAC) is equipped with the Automatic Identification System (AIS), Radar and video cameras.

The spokesperson said that the AIS identifies all vessels with the AIS transponders onboard, while those without the AIS are tracked with Radar while video cameras provide live pictures of all vessels along the Nigerian coastal waters. While the statement may reassure some ship owners, it is also true that many vessels turn their AIS transponders off to reduce the threat of attack from pirates in the Indian Ocean*, and there is no reason to expect vessels in fear of attack by bandits in the GoG will behave differently.

An immediate solution to the problems being experienced by seafarers in the area would not appear to be on the horizon. This, however, is a work in progress. In the meantime, the job of securing cargoes, crews and corporate reputations will likely fall upon the private security provider, meaning insurance discounts and a significant sense of relief in both boardrooms and bridges.

– By David Rider, Neptune Maritime Security

About Neptune Maritime Security:

Founded by decorated, former members of Her Majesty’s elite Special Boat Service (SBS) and supported by a team of international maritime legal experts, Neptune Maritime Security offers the kind of capabilities only the world’s most elite commercial maritime security specialist can provide. With over 30 years of experience in the field of amphibious counter-terrorism, Neptune Maritime Security’s team of highly trained, highly motivated specialists are supremely qualified in the area that concerns shipping companies most: safeguarding crew, cargo and corporate reputations For further details, please visit www.neptunemaritimesecurity.com.








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