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Urgency of effective policing in Gulf of Guinea

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Nigerian frigate NNS Thunder during the five-day joint military exercise between Nigeria and French navy codenamed Grand African NEMO (Navy Exercise Maritime Operations) in Nigerian waters on November 1, 2019. – The Nigerian Navy has participated in a five-day multinational military exercise codenamed Grand African NEMO (Navy Exercise Maritime Operations), and with a joint naval drills with the French counterpart designed to support regional navies and allied nations to check criminal activities and perfect strategies in tackling maritime crimes in the Gulf of Guinea. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

Sir: The international community needs to take concrete actions towards protecting the vessels and crew operating in the Gulf of Guinea. A situation whereby crew members are freely taken hostage is simply unacceptable. The Gulf of Guinea comprises 20 countries. 20,000 ships pass through it yearly; 130 sailors were kidnapped in the year 2020, while 95% of global piracy occurred in the Gulf of Guinea in the same year. Piracy threat grows off the coast of West Africa.

There is a need for another Operation Ocean Shield, which is the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)’s counter-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden and off the Horn of Africa. NATO has helped to deter and disrupt pirate attacks, while protecting vessels and increasing the general level of security in the region since 2008. NATO, this time, can provide naval escorts and deterrence while increasing cooperation with other counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Guinea in order to optimise efforts and tackle the evolving pirate trends and tactics, in full complementarity with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions. 

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The Gulf of Guinea region still remains the world’s hotbed of the maritime crime. Kidnappings and piracy for ransom in Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea are common. A similar attack occurred in 2019 when a Turkish cargo ship was attacked by Nigerian pirates, and 10 sailors, all Turkish nationals, were taken hostage for ransom. Later, all sailors were released.
Whilst the attention of the world has been diverted by COVID-19, piracy and armed attacks against ships’ crews remain a serious problem, requiring a concerted response by the international community at the highest level

I am particularly concerned by the deteriorating security situation in the Gulf of Guinea where there has been a sharp increase in the number of attacks on ships’ crews, many extremely violent, currently accounting for some 95% of maritime kidnappings worldwide. Whereas the majority of attacks against ships off West Africa in recent years had taken place in territorial waters, making intervention by foreign military vessels politically problematic, many vessels are now being attacked and boarded by pirates well outside territorial limits.

The Gulf of Guinea, on West Africa’s southern coast, is the world’s most pirate-infested sea, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported recently. Pirates in the Gulf of Guinea are often part of heavily armed criminal enterprises, which employ violent methods to steal oil cargo. According to the IMB, pirates in the Gulf of Guinea target all kinds of vessels. Crews from fishing and refrigerated cargo vessels or even oil tankers have been taken hostage or kidnapped.
 
I want to appeal to President Muhammadu Buhari and NATO to come together and seek how to make the Nigerian Navy effectively engage sea pirates, and thus address maritime security embarrassment. As the scale and frequency of maritime threats grow in the Gulf of Guinea, there is an increasing need for Gulf of Guinea states to learn from, and liaise with Australia to promote and preserve good order at sea.

Inwalomhe Donald writes from Warri, Delta State inwalomhe.donald@yahoo.com

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