Pirates Attacking Ships in Gulf of Guinea. Here’s Why and the Impact.

Pirates Attacking Ships in Gulf of Guinea. Here’s Why and the Impact.

2021-01-26 06:00:48

LAGOS – Pirates step up attacks on ships in the Gulf of Guinea, West Africa, defying regional navies. On Saturday, off the coast of Nigeria, pirates kidnapped 15 sailors from a Turkish container ship and killed one.

Pirates in the Gulf of Guinea abducted 130 seafarers in 22 separate incidents last year, all but five seized at sea worldwide.


The pirates are from Nigeria's turbulent Niger Delta, experts say. The region produces most of the country's petroleum, but it is woefully underdeveloped, scarred by pollution, and has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

Groups of men desperate for money are engaged in a variety of illegal but lucrative activities, including kidnapping, theft and refining of oil, and piracy.

They often take the kidnapped crew to the creeks that meander through the swampy area.


The International Maritime Bureau has observed a steady increase in kidnappings in recent years, affecting everyone from fishermen to international super tanker crews. Pirates who once stole cargo or transferred oil found that some companies will pay large sums of money to ransom kidnapped crew members.

Last year's oil price crash and Nigeria's second recession in five years exacerbated unemployment and economic hardship.

Max Williams, chief compliance officer of security firm Africa Risk Compliance, said Saturday's attack reflects even more risks.

"Breaking through the citadel and killing a crew member is a serious escalation," said Williams.

Williams added that attacks farther out to sea – Saturday's attack took place 200 nautical miles from the coast – was a reflection of increasing sophistication, as ships further offshore are less likely to be protected by the Navy.


The Gulf of Guinea borders more than 20 countries. The waters are the main route for everything from steel to soft drinks in a region heavily dependent on imports, and the main export route for oil, cocoa and other commodities.

Ships still go the lucrative route, but at a cost. Jakob Larsen, chief of security at shipping association BIMCO, said insurance costs are rising due to attacks and freight rates are more expensive because some ships avoid the region, reducing the number of ships available.

Kidnapping and ransom insurance can also cost shipping lines several million dollars annually, although most refuse to discuss details for fear they could target covered ships.

Such costs are typically passed on to consumers, and Larsen said there are also high indirect costs due to business and investments not being realized.


In 2013, 25 countries in the region developed the Yaounde Code, which established the coordination of piracy and other maritime crimes.

Nigeria has its own "Deep Blue" initiative to develop maritime surveillance and security, and last year it was first convicted under a new anti-piracy law.

Most countries in the region exclude international navies or armed private security personnel from their waters.

Foreign navies, such as France, Spain and Italy, are already patrolling the region's international waters, but BIMCO said there is an "urgent need" for a coordinated international law enforcement operation.

The Danish A.P. Moller Maersk, & # 39; the world's largest container line, agrees.

"International mandates have been found to secure the Strait of Hormuz and the Indian Ocean," said Aslak Ross, Maersk's chief of maritime standards. "So we should be able to find a mandate in West Africa."

(Additional reporting by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen in Copenhagen; edited by Giles Elgood)

Top photo: Nigerian Navy Special Forces sail to arrest pirates in a sham operation during the five-day joint military exercise between Nigeria and the French Navy code-named Grand African NEMO (Navy Exercise Maritime Operations) in Nigerian waters on Oct. 30, 2019. Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP) (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP via Getty Images)

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