Nigeria and Benin will cooperate to fight the growing threat of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, which has seen a number of attacks in recent weeks. Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan made the announcement during bilateral talks with Benin, which were convened to address the issue.
“Criminals don’t respect political boundaries in their nefarious activities, so we will cooperate with one another to find lasting solutions to the problems they pose,” Jonathan said on Thursday. He was speaking to Benin’s President Boni Yayi during bilateral talks in Abuja, Nigeria. The talks came after Yayi called for a regional summit on the issue of piracy.
Yayi said that pirates and bandits were threatening the maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea and called for action, led by Nigeria, to check the menace.
Jonathan said that the relevant Nigerian officials will work with their counterparts in Benin to find ways to deal with the problem.
On Thursday, Chief of Staff of Benin’s Navy Maxime Ahoyo said that, “Dozens of ships are already fleeing our shores due to fears of these pirates.”
The tiny nation has been hit by a series of attacks on ships in its waters in recent weeks, forcing London’s maritime insurance market to add Benin to a list of areas deemed high risk.
Ahoyo said ships in the country’s waters were leaving while those due to enter them were also staying away.
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$213 million), or some 40% of government receipts, from port activities each year.
Joseph Ahahanzo, managing director of the port of Cotonou, which is managed by the Bollore Group, warned several weeks ago that 80-85 percent of customs duties were collected in the country’s ports and business had already been hit.
Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, which stretches through a dozen countries from Guinea to Angola, is not comparable to the waters off Somalia, but analysts warn that it is set to increase unless countries beef up weak navies.
Many of the attacks in the region have taken place off Nigeria, Benin’s neighbour, but other countries such as Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea have also been affected.
“Benin is seeing a current spike in activity, but there have been other spikes in other parts of the region over the past two years, such as off the coast of (Cameroon’s) Bakassi peninsula,” said John Drake, a senior risk consultant with security firm AKE.
“The Niger Delta is also an area of concern, and opportunist criminals pose a risk in a number of harbours in the region.”
Somali pirates are keeping to the east coast of Africa but are inspiring pirates in the rest of the continent. However, Drake said conditions would not become as bad as witnessed off Somalia. “While under-resourced, there is at least a police force and judiciary in place in the Gulf of Guinea who will be able to stop pirates from holding vessels for large detention periods,” Drake said.
The Nigerian Air Force has over the last several years been improving its military capabilities and has paid particular attention to improving security in the Niger Delta and off the 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.
Nigeria’s coastline is about 480 miles/780 kilometres long and has an Exclusive Economic Zone of 230 miles/370 kilometres. This makes a total of 110 400 square miles (288 600 square kilometres) of water that need to be monitored.
On May 13 the Nigerian Navy (NN) received the former US Coast Guard Cutter Chase (WHEC-718) as an excess defence article under the US Foreign Assistance Act.
The class has a crossing range of 9600 nautical miles (17,800km) at 20 knots (40km/h). Top speed is 28 knots. Fitted with a 24m flight deck – but no hangar – the ship is capable of handling a medium helicopter.
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.
Other nations in the area have also been improving their militaries – Ghana this month ordered two Airbus Military C295 transport aircraft and two Diamond DA 42 MPP (Multi-Purpose Platform) Guardian surveillance and training aircraft, fitted with sensor turrets for surveillance missions.