—-an update on piracy incidents in Gulf of Guinea
A U.N. resolution last week condemned piracy in the Gulf of Guinea — the most dangerous piracy hot spot in the world.
Our research finds that piracy incidents in West African waters also tended to be more violent than elsewhere, as fighting on land, especially in and around the Niger Delta, appeared to spill out onto the water, as shown in the figure below.
A January 2021 incident involving the Liberian-flagged ship MV Mozart near São Tomé and Príncipe left one seaman dead.
The incident occurred approximately 180 kilometers off São Tomé Island and 375 kilometers from Nigeria, making it one of the farthest offshore attacks to date in the Gulf of Guinea.
Yet the MV Mozart attack was followed by a dramatic decline in piracy off Nigeria, with incidents in 2021 dropping nearly 50 percent from 2020 levels.
There have been five incidents per month in the first quarter of 2022. What, if anything, has changed?
Improving maritime security
But international aid, regional cooperation and local investments in building maritime security capacity may be finally paying off.
The United States and Europe contribute to maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea.
Funding for port security enhancements, information sharing, law enforcement training and capacity building are all intended to help ensure peace and promote economic prosperity.
E.U. countries and the United States have increasingly deployed naval vessels to the region to combat organized criminal groups targeting commercial transport ships.
The United States hosts multinational naval exercises in the Gulf of Guinea that is meant to improve counter-piracy operations and impede illegal fishing.
Regionally, West African governments have collaborated on efforts to secure the gulf against transnational organized crime.
The compact’s goal is to identify and apprehend criminal groups, protect seafarers and deter would-be pirates.
Fights over marine boundaries are creating safe zones for pirates
Five West African countries have established multinational maritime coordination centers, with additional operational bureaus set up in each of the 19 countries bordering the gulf.
If maritime boundaries once protected illegal fishers and pirates from capture, improved information sharing and subsequent coordinated actions by West African navies now render cross-border escapes more dubious.
Will Deep Blue help?
The Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure project, popularly known as Deep Blue, commits substantial resources to combat piracy, oil theft, smuggling and illegal fishing.
Deep Blue funding has supplied coastal patrol vehicles, interceptor boats and reconnaissance aircraft that all contribute to a vessel-protection mission.
In July 2021, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari also commissioned a surveillance system to provide a comprehensive picture of Nigeria’s maritime environment to inhibit criminal activity.
Additional troops deployed on land in Nigeria may help pursue criminal groups and their assets.
Will Deep Blue work? Bashir Jamoh, Director General of Nigeria’s Maritime Administration and Safety Agency(NIMASA)credited the deployment of Deep Blue assets for the decline in Gulf of Guinea piracy in 2021.
He also acknowledged assistance from regional governments, the shipping industry and foreign navies.
In August 2020, a Nigerian court sentenced the first three pirates under this law for the hijacking of an Equatorial Guinean cargo ship.
Still, recent counter-piracy operations by European warships don’t appear to have involved the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency — which is somewhat troubling if Nigeria’s new assets and closer communication are key to maritime security in the region.
Ship attacks and crew abductions may be down in West African waters, but the decline can only partly be attributed to Deep Blue.
European and U.S. naval deployments and improved regional collaboration probably matter more when it comes to curbing maritime crime.
Of course, better policing at sea doesn’t address socio-economic challenges on land that help drive piracy.
But addressing these broader challenges, experts point out, will also require assistance from the international community.
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