US private maritime security company AdvanFort has revealed that Benin’s government has given it permission to conduct anti-piracy operations off that country’s coast, protecting both domestic and foreign vessels.
In a press release issued on Tuesday, AdvanFort President and COO William H Watson stated that, “It is with great pleasure that I can confirm that President Dr Thomas Boni Yayi – who is also the African Union assembly chairperson – has made our Private Maritime Security Company (PMSC) the first foreign enterprise to be able to fight the sea-borne marauders where they cause the most problems.”
“In being able to offer in West Africa the same kind of security services for vessel owners and operators that have won us official US government praise for similar efforts off East Africa,” the AdvanFort President added, “we are thrilled to have been chosen by Dr Boni Yayi and his administration for critical responsibilities as Benin prepares to become a world-class registry for merchant shipping.”
AdvanFort Company also announced that it is rebranding itself and will operate globally as AdvanFort International. AdvanFort is a global maritime security company, with offices in Turkey, Japan, South Korea and Germany, amongst others.
It has landed in the news for the wrong reasons over the use of firearms. In 2011 one of its suppliers provided it with firearms without the proper export license, resulting in AdvanFort in March this year pleading guilty to “aiding and abetting the making of a false statement during the acquisition of firearms” and paying a fine. The company is a quarter of the way through a two-year probation period.
AdvanFort’s contract with Benin comes at a time when piracy is rife in the Gulf of Guinea, spreading to West African waters following a reduction in piracy off East Africa, due in part to the patrolling of international warships. Between 2011 and through May 2012, approximately 156 pirate attacks have been reported off West Africa.
According to Piracy Daily, pirates using one or two skiffs at a time hijacked vessels for an average of 1-11 days, during which time they transfer captured cargo to “unmarked” vessels, causing some vessels to conduct ship-to-ship operations more than 135 miles off West African shores.
“In the last three months there have been two reported incidents way out of the HRA [High Risk Area], a clear indication that the pirates – like those in the Gulf of Aden – are now following the vessels further offshore,” Piracy Daily reported. “Even though Benin and Nigeria began joint patrols closer to their shores the number of attacks has not subsided. In response to the joint patrols the pirates expanded their area of operation further west to Lóme, Togo.”
Cotonou, Benin’s economic capital and strategic port city, has seen a drop in dockings due to maritime insecurity. In 2005 there were 1600 dockings in Cotonou, today that figure is down to around 750, according to Piracy Daily. Benin derives half of its government revenues from its ports.