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Are Nigerian pirates expanding their area of operation?


NYA MarTrackTM recorded a total of 13 hijackings in the Gulf of Guinea in the first quarter of 2018, seven of which occurred outside the Nigerian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Between  2015 – 2017, NYA recorded 93 hijackings in the Gulf of Guinea and only five of these incidents occurred outside of the Nigerian EEZ. As such, the high number of hijackings that occurred outside the Nigerian EEZ in Q1 2018 alone is historically significant and merits further attention.

The majority of the hijackings recorded outside the Nigerian EEZ between 2015 – 2017 occurred between 70NM and 160NM off the coast of countries located west of Nigeria. One incident occurred 77NM south of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, one was recorded just off the coast of Dixcove, Ghana, another hijacking was recorded more than 160NM south of Lome, Togo, and one hijacking occurred 92NM south of Brass, Nigeria, just approximately 5NM outside the Nigerian EEZ. The most recent incident recorded in this three-year period occurred on 27 November 2016 approximately 70NM south of Cotonou, Benin.


The seven hijackings recorded by NYA outside the Nigerian EEZ in Q1 2018 took place across a vast body of water stretching from Ghana to Equatorial Guinea. Notably, four hijackings occurred less than 15NM off the coast of Cotonou, Benin, in close proximity to the maritime border with Nigeria, one incident took place 27NM south of Anloga, Ghana, and two hijackings took place off Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, respectively.

There are indications that Nigerian pirate groups are perpetrating the hijackings outside of the Nigerian EEZ, highlighting an expansion of their area of operation, at least in the short-term. Five of the recently recorded hijackings occurred within less than 30NM of the Nigerian EEZ and followed a modus operandi which has been employed by Nigerian pirate groups in the past. This modus operandi generally involves a small group of armed pirates approaching merchant vessels on speedboats and hijacking the vessel in order to kidnap crewmembers for ransom. Additionally, in at least one incident off Cotonou, Benin, it was reported that the perpetrators spoke English, as opposed to Benin’s official French.


It is important to note that the threat of hijacking and piracy incidents in general in the Gulf of Guinea has not shifted from the Nigerian EEZ to other areas in the region but rather expanded to these other areas. NYA recorded 55 maritime security incidents in West Africa between 1 January and 31 March 2018, more than the number recorded in any quarter over the past three years. A majority of the recorded incidents (39 out of 55) occurred within the Nigerian EEZ, demonstrating that the threat off Nigeria has not dissipated.

Instead, it is likely that Nigerian pirate groups are expanding their area of operation to territorial waters of neighbouring nations with weak navies and an abundance of attractive targets. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies Military Balance 2017, the naval forces of many West African countries such as Benin, Togo, Ivory Coast, and Equatorial Guinea have only limited capabilities. At the same time, some ports in these countries such as Cotonou Port in Benin and Lome Port in Togo rank among the busiest ports in West Africa and thus attract a high number of potential targets for pirate groups.

It is likely that the relatively low activity of pirates outside the Nigerian EEZ in the past year contributed to growing complacency that is being exploited by pirate groups operating in the wider region. Further hijackings motivated by crew kidnap remain likely in the short term, though the frequency of incidents outside the Nigerian EEZ is expected to decrease as a result of regional navies’ response to the recent spate of incidents.


The recent developments in hijacking trends in the Gulf of Guinea illustrate how vessels transiting the area face a persistent threat of piracy that is not limited to Nigerian waters.

NYA offers sophisticated vessel tracking software and a 24/7 incident alert service to inform our clients if one of their vessels is in close proximity to a significant piracy incident such as a hijacking, an attack or a sighting of a pirate action group. NYA provides analytical reports combining qualitative analysis and MarTrack incident data to inform and advise clients on regional threats and current security trends. Reach out to NYA today if you want to find out more about how our services can help you understand the threats to your people, property, and reputation either by email or by telephone: 0044 207 291 7700

Article written by
Kathrin Wartmann – Analyst