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Piracy off West Africa remains high

Piracy remains at elevated levels in West African waters, with 97 incidents recorded in 2017, including an increase in successful kidnappings compared to the previous year.

This is according to Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP) which in it’s The State of Maritime Piracy 2017 report said that there were more successful kidnappings in 2017 than in 2016 off West Africa, with more seafarers being held captive for longer than one day (90 seafarers versus 56 in 2016.) Overall, the waters of the Gulf of Guinea remain a dangerous hotbed of pirate activity, the organisation said.

Out of the incidents off West Africa in 2017, one involved hijacking for cargo theft, seven involved robbery, eight armed robbery and 21 resulted in kidnappings. There were also 18 reports of suspicious activity and 42 failed attempts. Most of the victims were tankers and bulk carriers either steaming or anchored.

2016’s geographic patterns were seen again in 2017, with the overwhelming majority of attacks happening off the Niger Delta. No attacks were recorded south of the Equator. In what may be a new trend, a series of attacks took place on anchored ships in ports along the western coast of Africa, from Sierra Leone to Cape Verde.

“Regional navies continued to enhance their enforcement capabilities through the acquisition of new naval assets, more multinational exercises, and further development of the Yaoundé Process-based information sharing architecture. This is reflected in an increase in the patrol days recorded for regional navies and a 27 percent increased rate of responses to attack incidents by maritime enforcement agencies.

“In only one incident did naval forces arrive on the scene in time to prevent the attackers from getting away with hostages or goods. This was also the only incident to result in the arrest of attackers in 2017. Alleged pirates arrested in connection with 2016’s MT Maximus incident were arraigned in November of 2017. However, without a specific piracy law on Nigeria’s books, charges were limited to related charges, demonstrating that legal frameworks must still be strengthened to support the legal finish,” Oceans Beyond Piracy said.

Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria have each established “secure zones” near major ports. These are clearly demarcated areas where ships can safely anchor to wait for a berth or conduct ship-to-ship (STS) cargo transfers. In Nigeria, private companies provide the ships, maintenance, logistics, and perform all scheduling and billing of clients. The armed forces supply the security personnel and weaponry. In Ghana, the Ports & Harbour Authority is responsible for providing security patrols. In Benin and Togo, the navies are responsible for patrols. Oceans Beyond Piracy estimates that operating these zones cost $9.3 million in 2017.

Oceans Beyond Piracy estimated the total cost of West African piracy at $818.1 million in 2017 (including $367 million for contracted maritime security and $68 million for naval activities) versus $793.7 million the year before.

The Oceans Beyond Piracy report comes as Nigerian pirates released 11 crewmembers who were taken hostage on 21 April off Port Harcourt. The crew of the FWN Rapide were held for a month before being released.