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Counter-Piracy Efforts in the Gulf of Guinea Pay Dividends

The International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) latest global piracy and armed robbery report recorded 37 incidents in the first three months of 2022 – compared to 38 incidents over the same period last year. Almost half of these incidents (41%) occurred in Southeast Asian waters, particularly in the Singapore Straits.

In comparison, there was a welcome decrease in reported incidents in the Gulf of Guinea region with seven incidents reported since the start of the year. IMB says sustained efforts are needed to ensure the continued safety of seafarers in the West African region that remains dangerous as evidenced by the hijack of a product tanker off the coast of Ivory Coast on January 24, during which all 17 crew were taken hostage. Reports of armed robberies have also been received within the anchorage waters of Angola and Ghana.

Thanks to the efforts taken by maritime authorities in the region, there have been no reported crew kidnappings within Gulf of Guinea waters in Q1 2022. This is a welcome change compared to 40 crew kidnappings in the same period in 2021. The efforts of the regional and international navies have also resulted in a reduction of reported incidents from 16 in the first quarter of 2021 to seven over the same period in 2022. 

The threat to innocent seafarers remains and is best exemplified with a recent attack where a Panamax sized bulk carrier was boarded by pirates 260 NM off the coast of Ghana on April 3. This illustrates that despite a decrease in reported incidents, the threat of Gulf of Guinea piracy and crew kidnappings remains. On being notified of the incident, the IMB Piracy Reporting Center immediately alerted and liaised with the Regional Authorities and international warships to request for assistance. An Italian Navy warship and its helicopter instantly intervened, saving the crew and enabling the vessel to proceed to a safe port under escort. The IMB has commended the prompt and positive actions of the Italian Navy which undoubtedly resulted in the crew and ship being saved.

The Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Dr. Bashir Jamoh has ascribed the decline of piracy in Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea to collaboration among stakeholders from within and outside the country.

“Our joy is that Nigeria has exited the piracy list and the progress is steady,” the Director General said.  “No single organization can lay total claim for the success. The Presidency is playing a major role by providing direction, the Armed forces are playing their role as enshrined in the constitution, and NIMASA is playing its role by being an effective Maritime Administration with the Deep Blue Project as a focal tool. The National Assembly who gave us the SPOMO Act and the Judiciary who have now ensured maritime crimes are punished in Nigeria should also get credit”, he said.

Dr Jamoh also acknowledged the support from the international maritime stakeholders as key to the success in the fight against piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. According to him, the international conglomerates, including the major oil marketers, International Tanker Owners, and International Cargo Owners groups, amongst others who are part of the joint industry-working group, which has now metamorphosed into the SHADE Gulf of Guinea, also deserve credit.

Other nations have played a significant role in making the Gulf of Guinea unfriendly waters for pirates. The Danish Armed Forces reported that on November 24, 2021, the crew of the frigate Esbern Snare responded to reports of an increased risk of piracy in the waters south of Nigeria. The frigate headed in that direction and sent the ship’s Seahawk helicopter in advance to observe. The crew of the helicopter found a number of merchant ships and a fast-moving motorboat with eight suspicious men on board. On board the ship, the helicopter crew could see equipment associated with piracy, including ladders. When the Esbern Snare approached, it sent the Frogman Corps in their fast-moving RHIB boats to board the pirate ship. The Esbern Snare called the pirates to bring them to a halt so that the Danish soldiers could board. When the pirates did not react, the Danish forces fired warning shots. The pirates then opened fire directly on the Danish soldiers. The Danish soldiers reacted in self-defense and responded to the fire from the pirates. No Danish soldiers were injured, but five pirates were hit. Four of the pirates died, one was injured. After the exchange of fire, the pirate ship sank. The eight pirates were taken aboard the frigate Esbern Snare, where one wounded man was treated for his injuries.

The NIMASA helmsman also reported that two of the Agency’s Global Maritime Distress Safety Systems, GMDSS, located at the Regional Maritime Rescue Coordination Center, RMRCC in Kirikiri Lagos and Takwa Bay are now fully functional.

”We have greatly enhanced the safety of navigation of vessels on our waters, every vessel within the Nigerian territorial waters and even beyond can easily access our GMDSS. The ones in Takwa Bay and Kirikiri are now fully functional, while the other three stations located in Oron, Bonny and Escravos are almost ready to commence full operations. These are some gaps identified in the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency by the International Maritime Organization during its last Member State Audit Scheme and we are closing these gaps”. He said.

Commenting on the Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Related Offenses SPOMO Act, which now serves as a model for other countries in the Region, Dr Jamoh noted the need for harmonization of laws to ensure uniformity of purpose in prosecuting maritime offenses within the region.

“Other countries in our region are now in the process of enacting laws similar to our SPOMO Act. This is the time for us to ensure harmonized Maritime Laws in the Gulf of Guinea to ensure criminalities in the maritime sector are prosecuted easily within the region, thus no safe haven for criminals in the region”.

The European Union’s Senior Coordinator for the Gulf of Guinea, Ambassador Nicolas Martinez has applauded Nigeria’s counter-piracy efforts. “We support Nigeria’s leadership in the regional quest to end piracy and other maritime crimes,” Amb. Martinez said. “You can count on the EU as we are fully supportive of the Yaounde Infrastructure. We urge Nigeria to share experience with other countries in the region. It is obvious from the results so far that Nigeria, providing leadership for other countries, is winning the war against piracy.” 

Recently, the Japanese Government has pledged $2.4 million Dollars to support Nigeria’s Deep Blue Project to enhance maritime security, and the Korean Government has donated a warship to NIMASA to add to the fleet.

There are encouraging signs also in other maritime regions. Worldwide, this is the first quarter since 2010 where no crew kidnappings have been reported, although violence against and the threat to crews continue with 23 crew taken hostage and a further four crew threatened.

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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