Piracy off West Africa at “breaking point”


The seas off West Africa, particularly the Gulf of Guinea, are synonymous with piracy and other maritime crime. Respected maritime risk and security analysts Dryad Global maintain it has reached breaking point.

In an analysis for its latest annual report Casper Goldman writes: “Seafarer lives are at risk from ever-increasing violent attacks and Nigerian pirates operate with increased impunity”.

“Maritime criminals hone their business plans; they know the price point of insurers and the value of a crew member’s life. In turn, ship owners weigh up the cost of improved security against insurance premiums and know where their margins lie.

“Operating in the Gulf of Guinea continues to present a serious and persistent threat to the safety and security of crews and vessels. 2020 saw 136 seafarers abducted in 27 incidents. Evidence shows attacks are increasingly violent – the use of guns was reported in over 80% of kidnapping incidents last year.

“Kidnappings also happen further offshore and larger groups of seafarers are abducted. Nation states in West Africa are overwhelmed; like the rest of the world, they are dealing with the effects of a global pandemic set against long term economic and societal instability overseen by endemic corruption at the highest levels. Change must be home-grown and the international community has a part to play in being accountable for its actions and in supporting and empowering local security forces through knowledge sharing and partnerships.

“Several regional frameworks were implemented to solve piracy in West Africa. These include the Yaoundé Code of Conduct, promoting information sharing and reporting, interdicting suspicious vessels and ensuring apprehension and prosecution; and the Lomé Charter, signed by 36 countries in the African Union framework and creating a legally binding regional commitment to combating maritime crime and piracy via several measures. These include harmonising national legislation, guaranteeing resources to maritime security and safety and state responsibility to patrol anchorage areas, the EEZ and the continental shelf. The ECOWAS Integrated Maritime Strategy, focussing on inter-agency collaboration at national level to bring together all stakeholders, as examples the EU, UNODC Germany, Denmark, regional security and defence, law enforcement, humanitarian and social affairs, shipping and port authorities.

“The Gulf of Guinea remains the most dangerous environment for commercial maritime operations. It remains vital supranational measures be implemented. Co-operation between coastal states is pertinent considering increasingly sophisticated and frequent attacks on the high seas, where effectively addressing piracy is beyond the capacity of most regional states.

“When, and indeed if, fully implemented, these frameworks have the potential to significantly reduce maritime crime and piracy in West Africa, yet positive rhetoric is still to be met with substantial implementation and progress,” according to Goldman.