London symposium focuses on Gulf of Guinea piracy


Piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea were highlighted at a recent high-level symposium which agreed urgent action is needed to ensure the safety and security of seafarers transiting the region.

The symposium at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) head office in London was attended by delegates from the international shipping community, flag states, seafarer groups and maritime agencies including the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).

Discussion was animated with all present in consensus as to the outcome to identify actions to reduce risks posed to seafarers and shipping and make crew kidnappings “history”.

This was made clear in a statement released after the meeting.

Dr Grahaeme Henderson, chairman of the UK Shipping Defence Advisory Committee and Vice President of Shell Shipping & Maritime, said the high level of piracy and armed robbery attacks in the Gulf of Guinea was not acceptable.

“Yet it happens every day and this is not business as usual. We need to take urgent action,” he urged.

His views were echoed by Jakob Larsen, head of security for BIMCO who said regional states also had a role to play.

“Nigerian piracy affects mainly a small geographical area of around 150 x 150 nautical miles. The problem can be solved easily and quickly if Nigeria partners with international navies. Nigeria holds the key to solving this problem,” Larsen said.

In his keynote address, Dr Dakuku Peterside, director general and chief executive of the Nigerian Maritime Authority and Safety Agency (NIMASA), acknowledged the maritime security risks in the Gulf of Guinea.

He said new initiatives were underway to improve the joint capacity of Nigerian law enforcement and Navy capabilities which could make seafarer kidnappings “history” within months.

He is keen to improve international co-operation, particularly with the shipping industry and said:  “We have no option but to work together, but we cannot have imposed solutions”.

NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy will host a Global Maritime Security Conference in October to seek tailored short and long-term solutions to strengthen regional and international collaborations in the Gulf of Guinea.

The latest quarterly piracy report published by IMB shows in the first quarter of 2019 the Gulf of Guinea accounted for all worldwide crew kidnappings. Twenty-one crew members were kidnapped in five separate incidents.

Incidents were reported in Benin, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Nigeria and Togo.

IMB statistics show while Nigeria has been a hotspot for piracy incidents over the past decade, the country experienced a decrease in reported piracy incidents during the first quarter of 2019 – 14 incidents compared to 22 in the same quarter last year.

“This confirms the Nigerian Navy’s increased efforts to actively respond to reported incidents by dispatching patrol boats,” the IMB said.

Nigerian waters remain risky for vessels. The meeting heard from piracy expert Professor Bertand Monnet, who interviewed pirate gangs in the Niger Delta.

He estimated there were about 10 pirate groups responsible for the majority of attacks in the area and they are “well organised and motivated”.

Speakers at the London meeting further emphasised the region was building capacity and co-operation to fight maritime crime through the Yaoundé Process. This focuses on co-operation across the region for reporting and response. The international community is sponsoring long-term capacity building and partnerships.

Delegates were encouraged to hear about recent Spanish Navy action to assist Equatorial Guinea rescue seafarers from a piracy attack last month, as well as a new US programme to embark law enforcement officers on regional vessels.

IMB said all the initiatives are positive but they will take time to mature. In the interim, solutions to ensure the safety and security of seafarers were still a necessity.