West Africa Turns Limited Resources to Addressing Piracy in Gulf of Guinea

West Africa Turns Limited Resources to Addressing Piracy in Gulf of Guinea

Maritime crime and disorder have plagued the Gulf of Guinea for decades, as weak and corrupt maritime security regimes emboldened thieves, smugglers and traffickers to exploit the littoral realm. The bountiful vessels serving Nigeria’s oil fields have presented a particular brand of pirates with a lucrative array of targets. With piracy no longer confined to Nigerian waters, however, West and Central African states have now recognized piracy as a regional crisis, as highlighted by a June 24-25 summit in Yaounde, Cameroon, to address the issue.

“No country can withstand the growing challenges individually. That is why we agreed to put our efforts together to end the illicit activities in the Gulf of Guinea,” proclaimed Chadian President Idriss Deby. This shared concern brought representatives from 22 states together to draft a Code of Conduct concerning the prevention of piracy, armed robbery against ships and illicit maritime activity. The new code is based on agreements credited with reducing piracy off the Horn of Africa and in Southeast Asia, but the economic, political and security environment of the Gulf of Guinea presents a unique set of challenges.

Nigerian piracy declined significantly after a 2009 government amnesty offered cash and security contracts to Niger Delta militants in exchange for them laying down arms against the state and foreign oil companies. While incidents of vessel robbery and kidnapping have again risen in the Niger Delta, the more worrying development is the hijacking and full-scale pilfering of oil tankers that has spread across the Gulf of Guinea. 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.

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