In 2013 a shocking revelation of how Piracy on the coast of East Africa has shifted to West Africa raised much concerns over the safety of the Gulf of Guinea in recent times. According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) annual piracy report, over 50 ships have so far been attacked by pirates in 2013 alone a development which accounts to about 20 percent of piracy attacks worldwide over the past five years. With an African sub region with such high prospects in oil and gas, pirates have now taken to the deadly advantage of attacking oil tankers whose lucrative returns is in effect siphoned off and sold to illegal Nigerian oil refineries and other West African sub bases of oil exploration such as Ghana.
A United Nations Global Report on Maritime Piracy from 1995 to 2013 has shown that recent piracy attacks in West Africa far outweighs that of Western India and South East Asia with grueling cases of hostage-taking, violent attacks toward crew members and the increased cases of deaths. In fact, the Gulf of Guinea remains one of the most dangerous naval paths in the world for any crew member as pirates often take valuable crew men hostage thus demanding unimaginable ransoms for their release.
Despite interventions by West African states especially the government of Nigeria against acts of piracy, West Africa’s largest oil producer keeps suffering the brunt of piracy attacks in the Gulf of Guinea. In fact in April 2014, armed pirates attacked a product tanker, SP Brussels which saw on-board security forces retreating to the pirates together with the crew – a development which saw the Chief engineer killed. A similar development at the Niger Delta waterway in Nigeria also saw two Nigerian soldiers and a crew member killed with three others severely injured.
So what could be the cause of such brutalities, what is there to be done that West Africa fails to do? According to the largest international shipping association representing shipowners across the world, Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO), West African vessel owners and masters often have lesser knowledge of the armed guards they bring on board their ships.
“Unlike the Somalian pirate attacks in the Indian Ocean on vessels in transit on the high seas, the attacks in areas such as the Gulf of Guinea often take place on vessels entering or leaving ports, or at anchor within the territorial waters of a littoral state. National law in the affected countries dictates that foreign security guards are not permitted to carry firearms on board merchant vessels within their territorial waters. Shipowners who want armed security personnel to protect their ships in these areas must rely on local security or law enforcement forces (commonly marine police or naval personnel). It is also understood that in Nigeria, for example, the Navy will provide small patrol craft to protect shipping,” BIMCO stated.
The best ways to preventing the scourge of piracy in West Africa from happening is when a pre-transit and security evaluation module is implemented. By this, not only will pirate activities be clearly tracked down but also will strict communication security against these pirates be achieved and also as BIMCO suggests, vessels will need a well-staffed 24-hour watch as West African pirates primarily attack at night.