The joint anti-piracy patrols undertaken by Benin and Nigeria are bearing fruit, as attacks have dropped significantly over the last month, according to Benin’s Chief of Defence Staff.
“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,” said Benin’s Chief of Defence Staff Boni Mathew.
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.
Operation Fire for Fire was designed to stop smuggling and piracy off the coasts of both nations. Armed speedboats are patrolling the waters off Benin and Nigeria, but AFP reports that the joint patrols were also to include a radar-equipped ship with a helicopter.
The joint anti-piracy patrols will last six months, by which time Benin should be able to monitor its own waters.
In August Benin’s President Boni Yayi called for a regional summit on the issue of piracy. At the meeting in early August, Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan said that, “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.”
Yayi and Jonathan met again in Abuja on Sunday and reviewed the progress made in the fight against piracy. “The last time we were talking about piracy on our coast; we now have a joint operation between Nigeria and Benin. I came to brief President Jonathan about the joint military operations and thank him for his efforts at ensuring safety along our common borders. The people of Benin are very happy with what we are doing together,” Yayi said.
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. Most recently, the International Maritime Bureau reported on October 8 that pirates had hijacked a product tanker off Nigeria, but released it five days later. On October 2 the Bureau said that pirates off Cotonou, Benin, boarded a chemical tanker and stole the ship’s cash.
“Dozens of ships are already fleeing our shores due to fears of these pirates,” Chief of Staff of the Navy Maxime Ahoyo said in August. 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.”
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.
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 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.
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. France 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.
Last month China provided a grant of four million euros for the purchase of a patrol boat for Benin.