Kidnaping in Gulf of Guinea highest in history
• Experts urge Nigeria to deploy military action to combat surge in piracy
• Attacks push up insurance, other shipping costs, says Maersk
The latest report by the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau (IMB) has shown that piracy in the Gulf of Guinea recorded the highest number of crew kidnapped in 2020. The report indicated that the Gulf of Guinea accounted for over 95 per cent of 135 crew members kidnapped globally during the period.
Meanwhile, experts across several countries have called on the Nigerian Government to deploy a more effective military response to contain the surging pirate attacks and kidnappings off the West African coast.
The situation has not abated this year with a fresh case of assault on a container ship, MAERSK CARDIFF, reportedly attacked in Port Harcourt last Wednesday, which showed that Nigerian waters are still porous despite the Federal Government’s efforts to combat piracy.
The IMB report indicated that in 2020, IMB’s Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) received 195 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships worldwide against 162 recorded in 2019.
The incidents included three hijacked vessels, 11 vessels fired upon, 20 attempted attacks and 161 vessels boarded. The rise was attributed to an increase in piracy and armed robbery reported in the Gulf of Guinea coupled with increased armed robbery activities in the Singapore straits.
It stated: “Globally, 135 crews were kidnapped from their vessels in 2020, with the Gulf of Guinea accounting for over 95 per cent 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.
“Incidents in the Gulf of Guinea are particularly dangerous, as over 80 per cent of attackers were armed with guns,” according to the latest IMB figures. All three vessel hijackings and nine of the 11 vessels fired upon in 2020 related to this region. Crew kidnappings were reported in 25 per cent of vessel attacks in the Gulf of Guinea – more than any other region in the world.”
The rise in kidnapping incidents demonstrates the increasing capabilities of pirates in the Gulf of Guinea. Given the development, IMB advises vessels in the region to remain at least 250 NM from the coast at all times, or until the vessel can transit to commence cargo operations at a berth or safe 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.
Shipping giants, AP Moller-Maersk, which transports about 15 per cent of global seaborne freights, said the attacks have pushed up insurance and other costs for shippers operating off West Africa, with some resorting to hiring escort vessels manned by armed navy personnel.
Recall that 25 African governments, including all those bordering on the gulf, signed the Yaoundé Code of Conduct in 2013 to tackle piracy, which was aimed at facilitating information sharing and established five maritime zones to be jointly patrolled. The pact has been partially implemented while most navies remain focused on safeguarding their territorial waters.
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.
The Executive Director of the Accra-based Centre for Maritime Law and Security Africa and a former Ghanaian naval officer, Kamal-Deen Ali, stated that 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.
Also commenting on the issue, a Senior Analyst at Denmark-based Risk Intelligence, Dirk Siebels, noted that 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.
A partner at London-based maritime security firm, Dryad Global, Munro Anderson, lamented that 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.
According to Monnet, hostages are usually held for ransom in Nigeria, the regional powerhouse that has taken the lead in preventing attacks, adding that its government plans to commission nearly $200 million of new equipment in 2021, including helicopters, drones and high-speed boats, to boost the navy’s capabilities.
The Liberian Shipowners’ Council, Secretary-General, Kierstin Del Valle Lachtman, however, urged the Nigerian authorities to disrupt the pirates’ onshore criminal activities, adding that improving employment prospects for impoverished coastal communities would reduce the threat of piracy in the longer term, but would not address the immediate problem.
Also speaking, Head of maritime security at the Baltic and International Maritime Council, a Copenhagen-based shipowners’ group, Jakob Larsen, proposed that 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.
He, however, considers such support unlikely because the sea routes are not as strategically important as those off Africa’s east coast, noting, “There is little international appetite for getting involved in Nigeria’s security problems.”
Meanwhile, Commander of the Nigerian Navy’s western fleet, Rear-Admiral Oladele Daji, said Nigeria is committed to “ensuring 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.”
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