Since 2011 reports from the International Maritime Bureau and International Maritime Organization have shown a marked increase in acts of maritime piracy along Africa‚Äôs west coast to a level that now rivals incidents of piracy around the Horn of Africa. Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, however, is drastically different from the type of piracy seen off the coast of Somalia in which ship crews are typically held captive for ransom.
Instead, pirates along Africa‚Äôs west coast actively disrupt vital commerce by stealing crude oil, fish and other cargo in transit, often injuring or killing crew members in the process. The effect of this type of piracy is immediately felt in the pockets of every Nigerian citizen as incomes dependent on the sale of the heisted cargo diminish and prices for these goods rise as they are lost to the black market.
Experts attending an April 20th conference on piracy at Nigeria‚Äôs Institute of International Affairs indicated that maritime piracy in the Gulf of Guinea stems largely from an increase in violence, insurgency and instability in Nigeria. These experts believe that attacks are likely coming from militant groups of the Niger Delta whose own knowledge of the oil industry provides them with the tools to hijack tankers and steal cargo. Additionally, it is widely believed that money earned from the sale of stolen cargo, namely crude oil, is funding Nigerian-based insurgent groups that are involved in trafficking arms and drugs across Africa.
In light of increasing instances of pirate attacks in West Africa, the United States, the United Kingdom, and ECOWAS states have offered their support in creating an effective security protocol to restore security to the Gulf of Guinea. British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Dr. Andrew Pocock, recently promised that the UK will support maritime security along Africa‚Äôs West Coast through advising, training and equipping of local security forces on the continent.
I would like to commend the efforts of the Nigerian Navy and other security agencies whose noble attempts at curbing piracy are frequently hampered by legal confines limiting their ability to deal with piracy through direct, effective means. Commodore Oluwole, the Commanding officer of the NNS Victory Calabar, recently explained that the Nigerian Navy and other maritime security agencies are unable to effectively deal with pirates due to narrow legislation that does not permit security officers to fire at, or the legal system to prosecute, the pirates.
I welcomed the remarks by Mr. Kingsley Kuku, the Presidential Adviser on Amnesty, who during a trip to the United States called on the international community to help Nigeria deal with the crime and piracy in her waters.
Recent events continue to highlight the inadequacies of the Nigerian anti-piracy legislation and its inability to effectively pursue and prosecute pirates according to the regulations of the IMO.
All of the criminal activities ranging from piracy in the gulf to violence and corruption on land are in fact interrelated, and I am confident that Nigeria, in cooperation with IMO regulations, international support coming from countries like the US, the UK and ECOWAS countries, and specialized security agencies, can strategically and effectively drive out these criminal activities through the creation of an effective anti-piracy legislation permitting the Navy and other maritime security agencies to deal with pirates according to best practices.
Reports that instances of piracy along Somalia and Africa‚Äôs east coast have decreased shows that progress towards combating piracy can be achieved.
The US Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro pointed to four factors that aided the anti-piracy effort along Africa‚Äôs east coast. The four-point strategy follows: 1] an international campaign; 2] placing armed security teams aboard merchant ships and using security measures such as razor wire and passing through pirate-infested waters at maximum speed; 3] tracking the financial flows from piracy operations, leading to the capture and jailing of pirate kingpins; and 4] supporting the formation of a responsible government capable of controlling its territorial waters.
The lessons and strategies from the anti-piracy campaigns on Africa‚Äôs east coast can be adopted in the Gulf of Guinea as long as Nigeria and other littoral states enact legislation that allows international security agencies, state military entities, and the legal system to engage and prosecute pirates accordingly. Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea need the full support of the international community in order to combat the piracy that now plagues us.
No one should be allowed to operate in Nigerian waters whose reason for existence is to disrupt the commerce of our country and deprive our people of their legal livelihood. Our anti-piracy efforts are vital, not only because of lives lost, but also because of the significant economic toll that piracy in the Gulf of Guinea takes on Nigerians. The inexplicable misuse of power and the diversion of security resources away from the anti-piracy effort requires a thorough investigation of the current security structure in Nigeria, the efficacy of our anti-piracy legislation, and the officials who have facilitated this ineptitude. Nigeria can no longer stand idly by as pirates, criminals and corrupt officials systematically destroy commerce and the livelihoods of good, hard working, honest Nigerians.