Africa’s west coast, particularly the Gulf of Guinea, has become the continent’s hotspot for piracy with warnings the rate of attacks could rise to two a day next year.
While the current preferred targets of pirates in this area are oil and gas assets, criminal gangs at sea are also responsible for drug trafficking, arms smuggling, dumping of toxic waste, illegal bunkering and illegal fishing.
James Fisher, chief executive of Paramount Naval Systems, said on the side of the Maritime Coastal Security conference currently underway in Cape Town that the move by pirates to the west coast was because stronger counter-piracy measures were now operational off the continent’s east coast.
“Criminal organisations now see coastal assets in west Africa as soft targets. The result is that the waters of the Gulf of Guinea are now the most dangerous in Africa for merchant shipping.
“West African nations are rapidly developing oil and gas infrastructure to capitalise on existing assets and exploit new offshore discoveries. These assets can serve as the driver of long-term economic development in these countries, boosting industry, creating thousands of jobs and bringing billions of dollars of foreign investment.
“Unless tackled quickly and effectively piracy could do serious damage to West Africa’s oil and gas industry, slowing development for years to come.
“The solution is not to seek international help to solve these African problems, but to build African solutions to them. The development of a strong African shipbuilding industry means it is possible for African nations to find African solutions to the threat of piracy,” he said.
Fisher maintains the company, now part of the largest private owned defence industry conglomerate in South Africa, is responding to demands from sovereign governments across Africa by developing a fleet of multi-role patrol vessels.
“The speed and flexibility of Paramount’s ships mean they are well-suited for a range of operations in coastal waters to prevent illegal activity and protect both assets and territory.
“To protect national resources it is essential to invest in flexible and modern maritime assets to patrol and effectively counter piracy. We see our vessels allowing African navies to respond to terrorist and criminal threats with the necessary resources to always be a step ahead,” he said.