Emmanuel Addeh in Abuja with agency report
Maersk, the world’s biggest shipping company has demanded a more effective military response to surging pirate attacks and record kidnappings off the coast of West Africa.
The number of attacks on vessels globally jumped 20 per cent last year to 195, with 135 crew kidnapped, the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre said in a recent report.
The Gulf of Guinea accounted for 95 per cent of hostages taken in 22 separate instances, and all three of the hijackings that occurred, the agency said.
Bloomberg reported that the attacks had pushed up insurance and other costs for shippers operating off West Africa, with some resorting to hiring escort vessels manned by armed navy personnel. A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S, which transports about 15 per cent of the globe’s seaborne freight, said decisive action needs to be taken.
“It is unacceptable in this day and age that seafarers cannot perform their jobs of ensuring a vital supply chain for this region without having to worry about the risk of piracy,” Bloomberg quoted Aslak Ross, head of marine standards at Copenhagen-based Maersk, as saying.
“The risk has reached a level where effective military capacity needs to be deployed,” he added.
The Gulf of Guinea encompasses a vast tract of the Atlantic Ocean that’s traversed by more than 20,000 vessels a year, making it difficult for under-resourced governments to police.
Fringed by an almost 4,000-mile-long shoreline that stretches from Senegal to Angola, it serves as the main thoroughfare for crude oil exports and imports of refined fuel and other goods.
Twenty-five African governments, including all those bordering on the gulf, signed the Yaoundé Code of Conduct in 2013 to tackle piracy and aims to facilitate information sharing and established five maritime zones to be jointly patrolled, but has been only partially implemented while most navies remain focused on safeguarding their own waters.
Bertrand Monnet, a professor of criminal risk management at France’s EDHEC Business School who has studied piracy in Nigeria’s oil-producing Niger Delta region for 15 years, estimates that a maximum of 15 bands operate offshore West Africa, each comprising 20 to 50 members. Hostages are usually held for ransom in Nigeria, the regional powerhouse that has taken the lead in preventing attacks.
The news medium said the Nigerian government plans to commission nearly $200 million of new equipment this year, including helicopters, drones and high-speed boats, to boost the navy’s capabilities.
Nigeria is committed to, “ensuring that this menace of piracy is gotten rid of in our waters, so that those with legitimate business in shipping, fishing, and oil and gas can go about their business without fear,” Bloomberg quoted Rear-Admiral Oladele Daji, commander of the Nigerian Navy’s western fleet, as saying in an interview.
While the West African attacks were initially concentrated offshore Nigeria, it stated that they’ve since spread to waters off Benin, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Togo and Cameroon, according to Kamal-Deen Ali, executive director of the Accra-based Centre for Maritime Law and Security Africa and a former Ghanaian naval officer said.
The number of violent attacks in the Gulf of Guinea has remained fairly consistent over the past decade, but abductions of more than 10 people have become increasingly commonplace, said Dirk Siebels, senior analyst at Denmark-based Risk Intelligence.
The pirates are increasingly operating deeper out to sea, with kidnappings on average taking place 60 nautical miles offshore in 2020, according to the IMB.
The furthest out took place in mid-July, when eight machine-gun wielding pirates boarded a chemical tanker off Nigeria’s coast and seized 13 crew members before fleeing.