Global Insider: West African Piracy

The number of pirate attacks off the coasts of Benin and Nigeria has reportedly dropped recently due to joint patrols by the two countries. In an email interview, Martin N. Murphy, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Ansari Africa Center, discussed West African piracy.*

WPR: What is the recent history of piracy off West Africa?

Martin N. Murphy: Piracy has been a serious problem off Nigeria since the 1970s. Back then it was concentrated around the port of Lagos, where ships often sat at anchor for months waiting to unload. This came to an abrupt end in 1981 when the price of oil declined and the port-clogging phenomenon known as the “cement armada” went home. Attacks resumed in the mid-1990s, concentrated this time off the Niger Delta. They were often perpetrated by groups such as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), a loose confederation of criminal and insurgents groups that blew up oil pipelines -- and even offshore platforms -- and siphoned off oil in large quantities to be sold illegally. Piracy undoubtedly takes place -- the Nigerian fishing fleet has refused to put to sea more than once because of the number of attacks and the absence of naval protection -- but the full extent of the problem is unknown, with some sources suggesting the scale of underreporting might be as high as 90 percent. Attacks by MEND and similar groups have also been launched against targets in Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, while on the other side of the country pirate attacks have recently occurred off Benin.

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