SIM Report: Pressure for greater multilateral anti-piracy efforts in Gulf of Guinea grow amid unabating attacks

Sim report: central & west africa, issue 13

Gulf of Guinea: Pressure for greater multilateral anti-piracy efforts grow amid unabating attacks 

Two pirate attacks off the Ghanaian coast at the end of May and early June raised new concerns about an expanding and escalating piracy threat in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) – the world’s piracy hotspot. While Ghana has not historically seen as many attacks off its territorial waters and exclusive economic zone as its nearby neighbour and regional piracy epicenter, Nigeria, pirate attacks in Ghana are not uncommon.

Last year, the country accounted for nine incidents, compared to three the previous year. By comparison, Nigeria had 35 incidents reported in 2019 and as many in 2020. Eleven incidents were recorded in Benin in 2020, which saw only three piracy incidents the previous year. This is according to data collected by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), an organisation linked to the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC).


The data partly confirms a trend seen over the past few years of piracy incidents ebbing and flowing in non-Nigerian GoG states, sometimes in reaction to increased naval operations off Nigeria’s coast. In 2020, the piracy trend in the region saw a slight increase compared to previous years, but this trend has not been evident during the first months of 2021. In the first quarter, the IMB recorded 38 incidents in the GoG. While that accounts for about 43 per cent of incidents reported globally, it was lower than the 47 attacks recorded in the same period 2020. Nevertheless, the IMB does note that attackers have demonstrated a growing willingness to use violence, in part evidenced by the large number of kidnapping incidents. The first quarter also saw the westernmost kidnapping recorded, about 212nm off the Beninese coast.

While the number of piracy incidents in the GoG has remained high, the extent of that threat has been growing over the past year, in part driven by the high number of kidnappings and use of violence. One incident in 2021 caused one fatality, after the armed pirates managed to penetrate the citadel, a  hardened room designed to keep crew secure during attacks, after several hours. 

Meanwhile the capacity of littoral states to combat the threat is hampered by serious under-funding of naval forces, who have requested help from shipping groups and governments. This partly explains Denmark’s plans to deploy a frigate to the region between November 2021 to March 2022. But other European Union shipping giants are also mobilising efforts for increased support and intervention to protect shippers.

Without concerted support and coordinated efforts to combat the pirates in the region, the threat is unlikely to be effectively addressed. Attempts at better coordination have already been made. In 2013, the Yaoundé Declaration sought to provide a unified West African voice against GoG maritime security, but the effects of this have been minimal. Partly, this is due to the inherent difficulties in coordinating responses by more than 15 littoral states; when Somali piracy was addressed in 2011, it only required the involvement or approval by one state – Somalia.

ASSESSMENT 

The threat of piracy in the GoG is unlikely to abate in the coming year. Instead, it is likely to continue along the same trajectory seen over the past three years, or it may deteriorate due to worsening socio-economic conditions on land, particularly in south-eastern Nigeria’s Niger Delta, where many maritime criminal gangs are believed to have their base.

In the longer term, increased deployment of naval assets is probable and this may create other risks to supply chains, as increased patrols may hamper the movement of vessels in this maritime region. Meanwhile, it is imperative shipping lines continue to implement the guidelines the Best Management Practices 5 West Africa, which includes advice on fortifications and other actions to take to mitigate the threat.

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