GULF OF GUINEA – In response to growing concerns and increasing attacks on merchant ships in the region, a taskforce of stakeholders from across the shipping industry has drafted the Gulf of Guinea declaration on the Suppression of Piracy. The declaration has been signed by organisations across the maritime industry including flag state administrations, ship owners, charterers, and shipping associations.
In 2020, 135 crew were kidnapped from their ships globally, with the Gulf of Guinea accounting for over 95% of the crew numbers taken in this way. This has happened in international waters in an area less than 20% of the size of the sea area dominated by Somali pirates a few years ago. The pirates launch their attacks from the Niger Delta, where they also subsequently hold their hostages.
Shipping organisation BIMCO and others have welcomed the positive steps taken by regional states, especially Nigeria. However, in reality, it will take some years before these states can effectively manage the problem. In the interim period the best solution is to have capable military assets from able and willing non-regional states to actively combat piracy in the area in support of the efforts by countries in the region.
This type of action mirrors the Combined Force operations, such as EU Navfor Atalanta and CTF151, which have suppressed pirate operations in the Indian Ocean. The signatories firmly believe that piracy and attempts at kidnapping are preventable through active anti-piracy operations and that by the end of 2023 the number of attacks by pirates can be reduced by at least 80%.
During its session from 5 to 14 May 2021, the Maritime Safety Committee of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) discussed Gulf of Guinea piracy. Although development of related IMO resolutions on this topic is constructive and welcome, shipping interests insist much more remains to be done, particularly in the short term. The launch of the Gulf of Guinea Declaration on Suppression of Piracy is therefore considered a timely expression of the maritime industry’s call for further action, through a wide range of collective efforts, to end piracy urgently in the Gulf of Guinea.
The piracy problem in the Gulf of Guinea has developed into a curse for seafarers over the past decade. In 2021, the threat that looms for all seafarers going to the region is being kidnapped at gunpoint for ransom. While overall numbers of pirate attacks are largely unchanged the violence, scope, and sophistication of the attacks on shipping has continued to increase and today take place across an area of more than 200 nautical miles from the pirate bases that are principally located within the Niger Delta.
BIMCO maintains that the piracy can be suppressed with as little as two frigates with helicopters and one maritime patrol aircraft which actively combat piracy in the area. It is therefore imperative that non-regional countries provide the necessary assets on a rotation basis, and that one or more states in the area support the effort with logistics and prosecution of arrested pirates. The Declaration does not aspire to provide the long-term solution to the piracy problem but to help make seafarers safe today. Carlo Cameli, Chair of BIMCO’s Maritime Safety & Security Committee, said:
“The root causes of the piracy problem in the Gulf of Guinea can only be solved by Nigeria. An estimated 30 million people live in the Niger Delta, many under difficult conditions, and it would be naïve to think that anyone other than Nigeria can address the roots of the piracy problem. However, suppressing piracy will help our seafarers, just like it did off Somalia a few years ago. It will also establish security at sea and enable regional blue economies to prosper. Without security there can be no development.”
A group of ship owners convened by BIMCO drafted the Declaration. The aim is to speak plainly about the piracy problem in the Gulf of Guinea and get all the stakeholders involved to address the real problems, with effective solutions, on behalf of seafarers.
By signing up, the signatories commit themselves to, among other things tangibly supporting antipiracy law enforcement as mandated by international law, including international treaties, (e.g. the United Nations Conventions on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)), by non-regional naval forces providing a capable incident response capability to complement regional coastal states’ antipiracy law enforcement operations.
Let us not forget however the original root cause of the problems in the Niger Delta. Energy companies, in league with government officials, caused many hitherto pristine areas to be devastated by pollution. Indigenous people were tricked or forcibly removed from their homelands, a natural course to foment violence and revolution against both the state and private interests.
Now, what began as a fight for fair treatment by some has evolved into an evil, criminal industry. Perhaps whilst consulting on the best way to prevent attacks some attention should be given to the evolution of this crisis, not for no reason was Nigeria suspended from the British Commonwealth for three years in 1995. Surely it is time for those responsible for the original atrocities which sparked this situation to be brought to book, as was openly discussed in the same forum in 2018.
For more on the history of this problem simply type MEND into the News Search box at the top of the page.
Photo: The land poisoned, the fish all dead, locals turn to illegal and dangerous activities to survive like this makeshift refining operation using the seeping crude oil to produce petrol from what was once farmland.