Reports today that two U.S. citizens were seized by pirates off the coast of Nigeria are drawing international attention to the simmering problem of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.
In July, maritime security expert James Bridger wrote in a WPR briefing that the situation was getting out of control. "West Africa has now reached a tipping point," he wrote, "where the geographic expansion of pirate activity demands a coordinated response." He continued:
Operating out of western Nigeria, criminal syndicates with high-level political and economic patrons are targeting specific tankers for hijacking, offloading their cargo to secondary vessels and then selling the product on a lucrative black market. This new modus operandi first appeared off the coast of Benin in late-2010 and subsequently spread to Togo and Cote d’Ivoire.
The spike in tanker attacks has prompted Lloyd’s Market Association, a London-based group of insurance underwriters, to add the waters of Benin, Togo and Nigeria to their high-risk area where additional war risk premiums are charged. In total, the Oceans Beyond Piracy think tank estimates that West African piracy inflicted between $740 million and $950 million in direct costs on the global economy in 2012, while a recent symposium of regional experts contends that the surrounding countries are bleeding $2 billion annually in lost revenue.
The region's capacity to respond to the threat is poor. Nigeria's limited capabilities are being sapped by the fight against violent groups such as Boko Haram, Bridger explained in April.
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