Yesterday, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) released new figures on piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. Attacks are increasing: out of 102 reported incidents in the first quarter of 2012, “Ten reports were received from Nigeria…equalling the same number reported in Nigeria for the whole of last year.”
The United Nations’ International Maritime Organization has also noted an increase in attacks in the Gulf of Guinea. In February of this year, the UN’s Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe called for “a united front” against the problem:
While regional States and organizations have carried out initiatives designed to counter piracy and armed robbery against ships at the national and regional levels, the threat not only persists but appears to be gaining ground in a region where the high-value assets the pirates target are abundant.
Last November, France “launched a three-year plan to train local forces and provide surveillance for anti-piracy operations in Benin, Togo and Ghana.” As the number of attacks in the area continues to rise, other nations may deepen their involvement in the issue as well.
The Christian Science Monitor elaborates on the causes of piracy in West Africa:
Like piracy off the coast of Somalia, the high-seas attacks in the Gulf of Guinea – extending from Ivory Coast in the West toward Nigeria, and down toward the Democratic Republic of Congo – are driven by a combination of economic opportunism by existing criminal gangs, and the lack of governmental capacity to rein in those criminal gangs on shore. Militias in Nigeria’s restive Niger Delta region have long carried out attacks on land-based oil pipelines, siphoning off crude oil in a practice called “illegal bunkering.”
In recent years, these attacks have extended to commercial shipping, and today’s West African pirates hijack ships and direct them to meet up with other large tanker ships specially contracted to offload the volumes of stolen crude oil.
Incidents in Somalia, meanwhile, have decreased (43 in Q1 of 2012 versus 97 in Q1 of 2011). IMB’s report says that “disruptive actions and pre-emptive strikes by the navies in the region” are responsible for the drop, although the threat is “still high.”