Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea
Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea affects a number of countries in West Africa as well as the wider international community. By 2011, it had become an issue of global concern. Pirates in the Gulf of Guinea are often part of heavily armed criminal enterprises, who employ violent methods to steal oil cargo. In 2012, the International Maritime Bureau, Oceans Beyond Piracy and the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Program reported that the number of vessels attacks by West African pirates had reached a world high, with 966 seafarers attacked during the year. According to the Control Risks Group, pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea had by mid-November 2013 maintained a steady level of around 100 attempted hijackings in the year, a close second behind Southeast Asia.
Scope of the problem
Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea and Nigeria has evolved over the first decade of the century. For some time, smaller ships shuttling employees and materials belonging to the oil companies with any involvement in oil exploration had been at risk in Nigeria. Over time, pirates became more aggressive and better armed.
As of 2014, pirate attacks in West Africa mainly occur in territorial waters, terminals and harbours rather than in the high seas. This incident pattern has hindered intervention by international naval forces. Pirates in the region operate a well-funded criminal industry, which includes established supply networks. They are often part of heavily armed and sophisticated criminal enterprises, who increasingly use motherships to launch their attacks. The local pirates' overall aim is to steal oil cargo. As such, they do not attach much importance to holding vessels for ransom. Additionally, pirates in the Gulf of Guinea are especially noted for their violent modus operandi, which frequently involves the kidnapping, torture and shooting of crewmen. The increasingly violent methods used by these groups is believed to be part of a conscious "business model" adopted by them, in which violence and intimidation plays a major role.
By 2010, 45 and by 2011 64 incidents were reported to the UN International Maritime Organization. However, many events go unreported. Piracy acts interfere with the legitimate trading interests of the affected countries that include Benin, Togo, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. As an example, trade of Benin's major port, the Port of Cotonou, was reported in 2012 to have dropped by 70 percent. The cost of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea due to stolen goods, security, and insurance has been estimated to be about $2 billion. By mid-November 2013, pirates in the Gulf of Guinea had launched around 100 attacks during the year.
By 2017 it became apparent that the problem of kidnapping had been increasing with 96 seafarers taken hostage that year versus 44 in the year prior. At the same time, incidents in the region range from violent kidnappings of crew members to petty thefts from ships at berth or at anchor. Navies and law enforcement agencies trying to tackle problems with piracy in the Gulf of Guinea therefore have to conduct a thorough analysis of different types of attacks.
The international community has expressed concern over the increasing number of reports of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. The IMB Piracy Reporting Centre reported that the range of the attacks is extending and the level of violence against the crews is “dangerously high”.
In November 2011 Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon assembled a team to examine the situation. As a result, a recommendation was made to convene a regional summit as to form a united front by the affected West African countries. It was recognized that the area needs a comprehensive maritime security framework across national boundaries to fight piracy. Furthermore, technical and logistical help is needed from the international community.
On 19 November 2012, the United Nations Security Council held an open meeting to discuss piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, among other areas. The debate, which was the first held by the Security Council about this subject, was called by Indian Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri and heard more than 40 speakers from different countries and international organizations. Several speakers noticed that while acts of piracy in the Indian Ocean were declining due to coordinated naval operations, piracy in the Gulf of Guinea was intensifying. They suggested applying lessons learned there to the Gulf of Guinea, "including a focus on modernizing counter-piracy laws, strengthening capacities for maritime law enforcement and crime investigation, supporting regional networks and increasing knowledge sharing."
According to a joint report by the International Maritime Bureau, Oceans Beyond Piracy and the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Program, the number of vessel attacks off the coast of West Africa had by 2012 surpassed those in the Indian Ocean, where piracy was by contrast sharply on the decline. West African pirates attacked 966 seafarers during the year, holding hostages for a shorter period of four days on average. However, captives in West Africa were at a much greater risk of violence, with five hostages reportedly killed there in 2012 compared with no fatalities elsewhere. Pirate incidents off the coast of Indonesia similarly rose from 2011's total of 46 to 51.
Locations of attacks
Among the locations in Nigeria that have been subject to attacks by pirates are:
Attacks per year
- 2003 - 39
- First half of 2004 - 13
- 2007 - 56
- 2008 - 40
- 2012 - 966
- 2014 - 67
- 2015 - 54
Chronology of selected attacks
- January 4, 2009: Pirates hijacked the French ship Bourbon Leda with five Nigerians, two Ghanaians, one Cameroonian and one Indonesian on board. It was freed January 7.
- January 21: Gunmen attack the diesel tanker MT Meredith and kidnap a Romanian, who is released a day later.
- January 23: Rebels steal some items from the Exxon tanker MV Ngoni. They also seized a tugboat.
- April 21: Rebels attacked the Turkish ship Ilena Mercan and kidnapped two crewmen.
- November 24: Pirates hijacked the Liberian-flagged Cancale Star off Benin and killed a Ukrainian officer before robbing the ship.
- December 1: The Ghanaian Navy intercepted the hijacked oil tanker African Prince a week after it had been taken. The pirates escaped; they had killed the ship's chef.
- March 13, 2010: A Chinese fishing vessel was hijacked off the Bakassi Peninsula, Cameroon. Seven fishermen were abducted. The kidnappers demanded a ransom and later released the vessel and its passengers on March 18.
- September 23: Three Frenchmen were kidnapped from a vessel belonging to the company Bourbon off the Nigerian coast.
- August 3, 2011: Two Panamanian-flagged tankers were attacked off Benin's coast but the ships were not taken. In the previous week, an Italian diesel tanker and a Swedish tanker were also attacked off Benin.
- August 19, 2012: A British-owned oil tanker was hijacked in the Port of Togo. Authorities suggest that the same group hijacked a Greek-owned oil tanker in this region.
- August 28, 2012: A Greek-owned oil tanker was hijacked in the Port of Togo on Tuesday. Authorities suggest that the pirates will siphon off the gas oil from these types of vessel hijackings in this region.
- September 4, 2012: A Singaporean-flagged oil tanker, the MT Abu Dhabi Star, was hijacked off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria. They broke glass windows to access a bridge into the 183m (600-ft) long vessel. The pirates fled as soon as they realized a Nigerian naval ship was approaching. It is suspected that although the pirates fled, they may have attempted to siphon off the gas from the ship.
- October 15, 2012: A Luxembourgish-flagged anchor handling vessel named AHT Bourbon Liberty 249, was hijacked while off the coast of Nigeria.
- December 23, 2012: an Italian-registered ship was hijacked by seven Nigerian pirates, off the coast of the state of Bayelsa. Pirates successively released the ship with most of the crew, but took three Italians and a Ukrainian as hostages, who were freed a couple of weeks later.
- January 16, 2013: A Panamanian-flagged vessel, ITRI (owned by the Ivory Coast company, Koda Maritime), was hijacked while transferring 5,000 tons of oil near Abidjan.
- February 3, 2013: A Luxembourg-flagged oil tanker, Gascogne (owned by France) was hijacked approximately 130 km (70 nmi) south of the port city of Abidjan.
- February 4, 2013: A Marshall Islands-flagged chemical tanker, Pyxis Delta (owned by the UAE), was hijacked off the coast of Nigeria. A Filipino crew-member was killed during the hijacking.
- February 11, 2013: A UK-flagged cargo ship, Ester C (owned by the Isle of Wight-based Carisbrooke Shipping), was hijacked by pirates between the Cameroonian port of Douala and the port of Malabo in Equatorial Guinea.
- April 16, 2013: A Greek-flagged crude oil carrier, Cap Theodora, was attacked by pirates 67 km (36 nmi) off the coast of Principe Island, Gulf of Guinea. The ship thwarted the attack by increasing its speed and performing evasive maneuvers.
- April 25, 2013: A Liberian-flagged container ship, Hansa Marburg (owned by Hamburg-based shipping firm Leonhardt and Blumberg), was hijacked 240 km (130 nmi) off the coast of Equatorial Guinea, with four crew members on board.
- May 25, 2013: The Nigerian-flagged oil products tanker, MT Matrix, was hijacked approximately 74 km (40 nmi) off the Bayelsa State of Nigeria.
- September 22, 2018: Swiss cargo ship MV Glarus, laden with wheat, pirated; of 19 crew members, 12 were taken hostage.
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The MV Glarus was carrying wheat between Lagos and Port Harcourt when it was attacked and boarded by pirates, who took 12 of the 19 crew members, the ship's operator said. ... In August, security firm EOS Risk Group said there had been 34 Nigerian pirate attacks on merchant and fishing vessels in the Gulf of Guinea between January and June this year, according to Sky News.
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