Vessels passing by means of the Gulf of Guinea, an unlimited stretch of water from Senegal to Angola, are struggling more and more violent assaults by gangs who function with close to “impunity” in its poorly-policed waters.
150 Ships have been taken hostage and estimated $500m paid out in ransoms
Where as soon as the gangs concentrated primarily on merely robbing ships near shore, some at the moment are ranging out a whole lot of miles to sea and taking whole crews hostage for weeks at a time, forcing transport corporations to pay up hefty ransoms.
The tactic has echoes of the Somali piracy disaster of a decade in the past, when greater than 150 ships have been taken hostage and estimated $500m paid out in ransoms.
“The emphasis is now on the kidnapping of a number of crew members, with the assaults going down a lot additional out to sea and in opposition to all kinds of transport,” mentioned Michael Howlett, director of the International Maritime Bureau, the London-based international piracy watchdog.
“The risk-reward ratio may be very closely in the favour of the pirates, and it has turn into a profitable enterprise model that should be damaged.
“It is a big sea space to police, and proper now, if vessels name for assist, there is not actually a well timed and efficient response. The pirates are working with near-impunity and that is an unacceptable state of affairs for harmless crew to be subjected to.”
Mr Howlett was talking in the wake of the hijacking of 15 Turkish sailors on board the Mozart, a container ship hijacked on January 23 some 200 miles off the coast of Nigeria.
The pirates clambered over rolls of barbed-wire designed to guard the ship after which used an angle grinder to chop their approach by means of the metal door of protected room the place the crew have been hiding. As they entered the room, they opened fireplace, killing one sailor and injuring three others.
“They labored to interrupt the doorways for six to seven hours,” mentioned the Mozart’s chief engineer Suha Tatligul. “They opened fireplace as quickly as they broke inside.”
The indisputable fact that the pirates might spend so lengthy simply breaking in exhibits that they had little fear about being caught, safety consultants say.
The hijacking was one of 16 assaults or tried assaults this 12 months alone in the Gulf of Guinea, based on Dryad Global, a British maritime safety consultancy. Last 12 months, 130 sailors have been kidnapped in the area, a determine that accounted for 95 per cent of international kidnappings at sea.
Delta’s oil wealth
Although the pirates function all around the Gulf of Guinea, most are prison gangs based mostly in Nigeria’s Delta area, lengthy a hang-out of militant teams preventing for a better share of the Delta’s oil wealth. Some used to generate profits from unlawful oil tapping and theft of oil from ships, however the collapse in world oil prices since 2014 has compelled them to search for extra worthwhile crimes.
The gangs run makeshift “hostage camps” on islets in the Delta area’s dense forests, many of that are accessible solely by boat and arduous to navigate for outsiders. “It actually is the proper place to be a pirate, significantly better than Somalia,” mentioned Munro Anderson, a companion at Dryad.
Last month, the Danish transport big Maersk referred to as for more durable motion after two tried piracy assaults on the corporations’ ships since December. The firm additionally owns the Maersk Alabama, whose hijacking by Somali pirates in 2009 was dramatised in the movie Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks.
Maersk cargo ship
“The threat has reached a stage the place efficient army capability must be deployed,” mentioned Aslak Ross, Maersk’s head of marine requirements.
The downside is partly as a result of governments in the area – one of the world’s poorest – lack navies succesful of policing its waters correctly.
While transport corporations in the Indian Ocean have quelled the menace from Somali pirates by deploying personal armed guards, governments in the Gulf of Guinea area usually insist that transport depends on native safety forces, whose high quality usually varies global anti-piracy.
In the final decade, the US navy has held an annual joint army train with West African navies, which has improved co-ordination. Nigeria, the regional powerhouse, has additionally spent round £150 million on counter-piracy vessels, one of which fended off an assaults on a Maersk cargo ship in December.
But whereas critics say it’s nonetheless not sufficient, proper now there appears little prospect of a global anti-piracy drive being assembled, just like the European Union and Nato ones that operated off the coast of Somalia. Such a transfer would want the total cooperation of west African governments, who’re unlikely to completely welcome overseas navies in their yard.
“Where Somalia was a failed state, there was a clean canvas to construct a safety framework, however there could be important sovereignty points about Nigeria accepting assist in territorial waters,” mentioned Mr Anderson.