Extra security for Indian Ocean shipping no longer justified as East African piracy drops


As the threat of piracy off the East Coast of Africa declines, the significant security costs for transits in the Indian Ocean and through the Red Sea are no longer justified, according to risk intelligence firm Dryad Global.

In its annual piracy report for 2019, Dryad said there is little incentive for the insurance industry to remove its premiums that are linked to the piracy threat off East Africa in spite of the reduced threat. “Despite commanding the largest premiums and associated costs of armed guards, the Indian Ocean ranks fourth in maritime crime incidents with less than one fifth of incidents of the most active; West Africa.”

In 2019 West Africa was the most dangerous commercial maritime operating environment in the world with the greatest number and type of incidents, Dryad said. The current threat off East Africa is presented by state actors against which anti-piracy procedures are ineffective. There were zero confirmed maritime security incidents within the High Risk Area (HRA) off the Horn of Africa within 2019.

Only 26% of incidents reported in the Indian Ocean occurred within the HRA, of these only one incident was a confirmed robbery of a vessel in port. In 2019 there were 19 incidents of which 40% were state-backed actions (non-traditional maritime crime) within the busiest sea lanes in the world (most incidents involved Yemeni and Iranian state actors). Excluding geo-political events, in the 2019 the Indian Ocean has seen a 73% fall in maritime security incidents compared to 2018 and a 83% fall compared to 2017. Overall maritime security incidents in the 2019 reporting period are 95% lower than in 2011.

“However, the world needs to wake up to the shipping crisis happening in the waters of West Africa,” Dryad cautioned. “West Africa is the hub of maritime crime and human suffering in the shipping industry yet calls for coordinated responses like those seen in the rise of piracy in the Indian Ocean have so far fallen on deaf ears. West Africa does not have the volume of traffic as the Indian ocean does.”

In 2019 there were nearly six times as many incidents than in the Indian Ocean for the same period off West Africa. Kidnappings represent 23% of all recorded incidents in 2019. Whilst overall incidents are reducing there was a 75% increase in kidnapping incidents in 2019 compared to 2018. Hijacked incidents have risen by 33% but overall account for less than 7% of incidents within West Africa, Dryad figures show.

West African piracy

The confluence of oil wealth and weak governance has led to the conditions that now see West Africa as the global epicenter of violent maritime crime, Dryad said. “Piracy in West Africa remains centered on Nigeria and indeed any progress that is to be made towards a resolution in the region must originate here.”

The Niger Delta is the focal point of West African maritime crime. The presence of global oil in the region has served to exacerbate social tensions between communities and private companies, which in many cases has given rise to militancy, illicit bunkering and fuel theft. The increased policing of the Nigerian EEZ may have created a climate where piratical groups within the region calculate that kidnapping is a preferable option in terms of activities to conduct within the area, as opposed to robbery. This realistically could explain the recent rise in kidnappings within the last 18 months, and is likely driven by a rational cost/benefit analysis of the risks piratical groups face.

Piratical groups may have inferred that a high risk/high reward activity such as kidnapping is a more prudent use of assets in a policed area, as opposed to a robbery which may pose the same level of risk but without the same level of reward.

Beyond Nigerian waters, West African piracy has seen a number of notable incidents and trends. At the time of publishing (in January 2020), 13 attacks occurred within the waters of Togo and Benin and 11 within the waters off Cameroon. The latter represents an 83% increase on incidents from 2018 and has led to Cameroonian waters being designated as the fourth most affected by maritime crime after Nigeria, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Preventative anti-piracy measures taken by the governments of these countries include Benin, which announced in November that it was mandatory to embark state guards when calling at Cotonou Port. Additionally, the government of Cameroon announced in September 2019 that they would provide, free of charge, embarked naval personnel as security on all vessels calling at Douala Port.

Governments from beyond the region have also announced measures, which indicates heightened international concern about the maritime security environment throughout West African waters. Following the kidnapping of 45 Indian personnel in three separate incidents in 2018, India announced in June 2019 that it would ban all Indian nationals from serving as mariners within the region.

The fall in maritime security incidents in the region can be partly attributed to several regional coordinated responses and legislative frameworks that have been implemented in West Africa. At present, the Djibouti Code of Conduct (DCoC), the African Union’s Lomé Charter, and the Yaoundé Code of Conduct, function as the basic structures for anti-piracy efforts across Africa. Additionally, in 2019, Nigeria took tangible steps towards more formalised mechanisms of support and coordination. These include the Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Bill and the Nigerian Deep Blue project however both of which are yet to ascend into codified legislation.