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Nigerian, Benin navies capture pirates; to receive gunboats

altThe Joint Military Task Force established by Nigeria and Benin to patrol the Gulf of Guinea has arrested eight suspected pirates, officials report.

The Flag Officer Commanding Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral Emmanuel Ogbor told Nigeria’s Daily Sun that the pirates were arrested off the coast of Benin.

Ogbor said that four of the detained pirates were handed over to Benin officials for prosecution while the other four have been handed over to Nigerian authorities.

“The presence of the Joint Task Force has deterred criminals within the waters and every thing within the area which hitherto had bothered that country has normalized. The good thing about this operation is that its not restricted to Beninois waters and they come out, they patrol up to Nigeria’s territorial waters and go back, it does not extend to territories within the Benin Republic, it also extends to Nigeria,” Ogbor said.

Nigeria and Benin launched joint sea patrols on September 28. Around 100 military personnel from the two countries embarked on three patrol boats and four fast attack craft at the Cotonou’s naval base. Operation Prosperity is designed to last six months.

The joint patrols "are not aimed primarily at arresting the sea pirates but to prevent them from attacking the ships", Benin Navy Chief of Staff Maxime Ahoyo told AFP.

Last month Benin’s Chief of Defence Staff Boni Mathew said that the joint anti-piracy patrols were bearing fruit, as attacks had dropped significantly. “Currently there is an ongoing naval operation in our seas, so as to deter pirates from operating in our territorial waters. I think this has so far been successful, as there has been no more attacks, apart from some minor incidents here and there.”

Mathew said the joint operation with Nigeria had also succeeded in ensuring safety along the borders of both countries and had helped curb such crimes and weapons smuggling.

The Gulf of Guinea has seen a dramatic increase in the number of attacks on ships this year – Benin has seen around 20 incidents of piracy this year, compared to none last year. London’s maritime insurance market recently added Benin to a list of areas deemed high risk for ships.

Benin, which exports cotton and is an entry port for land-locked countries such as Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso, collects about 100 billion CFA francs (US$218 million), or some 40 percent of government receipts, from port activities each year.

Joseph Ahahanzo, managing director of the port of Cotonou, which is managed by the Bollore Group, recently warned that 80-85 percent of customs duties were collected in the country's ports and business had already been hit.

Michael Howlett of the International Maritime Bureau, speaking to the press, said the increase in attacks off Benin “is very much a cause for concern,” and that, “The security arrangements in Nigeria have been beefed up and that may have forced or displaced the problem temporarily to Benin.”

Benin and Nigeria are getting new vessels to help patrol the Gulf of Guinea. Ogbor said that Nigeria will receive six patrol boats from the Netherlands before the year is out.

On May 13 the former US Coast Guard Cutter Chase (WHEC-718) was handed over to the Nigerian Navy (NN) as an excess defence article under the US Foreign Assistance Act. The Hamilton class was renamed NNS Thunder and will enter service later this year.

“Training has commenced for selected female personnel to serve onboard the NNS Thunder. As you may have known, the ship is configured to embark female officers and ratings. In the same vein, combatant training for female officer cadets has commenced in the Nigerian Defence Academy. This is with a view to producing combatant female regular commissioned officers for the Armed Forces of Nigeria,” Ogbor said.

Nigeria has been strengthening its military its military capabilities over the years and has paid particular attention to improving security in the Niger Delta and off its 780 kilometre long coast, where it has numerous oil installations. In March 2007 it signed a US$73 million contract for two ATR 42MP maritime patrol aircraft to join its Dornier 128s. The first ATR was delivered in December 2009 and the second in March last year.

The Nigerian Navy has received 10 donated vessels to enhance operations in the Niger Delta. The navy has also established new base in Lokoja known as NNS Lugard and another in Ikot Abasi known as NNS Jubilee.

The force is seeking government approval to acquire up to 49 ships and 42 helicopters over the next ten years to police the nation’s territorial waterways and Gulf of Guinea.

Meanwhile the US envoy to Benin told Reuters that Benin was seeking to buy aircraft to shore up its coastal surveillance as pirate attacks spike.

Nigeria and Benin have also been assisted by foreign nations. Earlier this month it emerged that France had launched a three-year plan to train local forces and provide surveillance for anti-piracy operations in Benin, Togo and Ghana.

French aid comes after the United Nations Security Council last month pledged to look at ways of tackling the problem, which has long affected Nigeria's Niger Delta region but has spread, hurting Benin's shipping industry in particular.

France has pledged to spend 5.2 billion CFA francs (US$10.8 million) on training local forces and buying two surveillance aircraft from French firm LH Aviation, the ambassador said.

France earlier this year sent the patrol frigate Germinal to the region, where it patrolled the coasts of Benin, Togo and Ghana in an effort to combat piracy and train foreign naval personnel.

Meanwhile, the US Navy’s HSV Swift was recently deployed to the Gulf of Guinea as part of its Africa Partnership Station project.

In September China provided a grant of four million euros for the purchase of a patrol boat for Benin.
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