CURBING PIRACY IN THE GULF OF GUINEA

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Pirates Attack

The authorities could do more to reduce incidence of piracy

While Nigeria has for several years been a hotspot for piracy incidents, the International Chamber of Commerce International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) recent report is encouraging. It indicates that in the first quarter of 2019, Nigeria experienced a decrease in reported piracy incidents in comparison to the first quarter of 2018. These results, according to the report “confirm the Nigerian Navy’s increased efforts to ‘actively respond to reported incidents by dispatching patrol boats’”. But the report also added: “Despite these efforts, Nigerian waters remain risky for vessels, especially the port of Lagos where four incidents have been reported.”

We commend the Navy for their efforts as we urge the Nigerian authorities to do more to make our waters safe and rid our country of what has become another emblem of shame. “The Gulf of Guinea represented a high number of piracy and armed robbery attacks at sea, with 22 incidents reported in the first quarter of 2019. The region also accounted for all of the worldwide crew kidnappings as 21 crew members were kidnapped across five separate incidents. Incidents were reported in the coastal countries of Benin, Cameroon, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Nigeria and Togo in the first quarter of 2019” said the report.

To say the least, this spate of attacks is worrisome as it has given Nigeria and other countries in the Gulf of Guinea a very negative image in the comity of maritime nations. It has also led to the high cost of freight as ship owners and crew members often demand for high insurance premium before embarking on any voyage to Nigeria. For most of last year, according to the EOS Risk Group, there were dozens of Nigerian pirate attacks on merchant and fishing vessels in the Gulf of Guinea. “Most concerning this year has been the resurgence of ‘petro-piracy’, involving the hijacking of tankers for oil theft,” said Jake Longworth, senior intelligence analyst at EOS Risk. “The return of petro-piracy has been accompanied by an associated increase in the geographical reach of Nigerian pirate gangs, leading to attacks in the waters of Benin and Ghana.”

The high number of lives lost to such crime aside, piracy drives fear into shipping practitioners, especially ship captains and master mariner. Apart from reducing the number of vessels calling at the nation’s seaports due to the fear of an imminent attack, it has helped in no small measure to increase the cost of doing business in Nigeria as ship owners and the consignees now charge higher than they do for other countries. The huge costs are eventually passed off in the cost of freight to the final consumer.

While there is unanimity among shipping practitioners that sea piracy cannot be totally eradicated, it is also a fact that with concerted efforts by all the relevant stakeholders, the menace can be minimised in our country. In addressing the challenge, the Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Dr Dakuku Peterside has consistently argued that a legal framework that prescribes stiffer sanctions, a more vigorous and vigilant military-led patrol and better intelligence gathering network would be required.

Dakuku’s position has been corroborated by Ambassador Michele J. Sison, the United States’ Deputy Representative to the United Nations. The root causes of piracy in the region, according to Sison, are ineffective governance structures, weak rule of law, precarious legal frameworks and inadequate naval, coast guard, and maritime law enforcement. We hope the federal government will assist Dakuku to put such measures in place so that the Nigerian territorial waters will not continue to harbour criminals.