By UCHE USIM
Nigeria again topped the list of countries in the Gulf of Guinea where piracy and sea robbery held sway in 2013.¬†According to statistics released by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) in its 2013 analysis, Nigerian pirates moved further afield last year and ventured far into waters off Gabon, Ivory Coast and Togo, where they were linked with at least five of the region‚Äôs seven reported vessel hijackings.
The annual report further showed that Nigerian pirates and sea robbers accounted for 31 of the region‚Äôs 51 attacks, taking 49 people hostage and kidnapping 36, more than in any year since 2008.
According to IMB ‚Äúoff the coast of Nigeria itself, two ships were hijacked, 13 were boarded and 13 fired upon‚Äù, even as it added that West African piracy made up 19 percent of attacks worldwide last year.
‚ÄúNigerian pirates were particularly violent, killing one crewmember, and kidnapping 36 people to hold onshore for ransom‚Äù, the report stated. On the global scene, piracy at sea reached its lowest levels in six years, with 264 attacks recorded worldwide in 2013, representing a 40% drop since 2011.
The report also indicated that 15 incidents were reported off Somalia in 2013, down from 75 in 2012 and 237 in 2011.
The annual global piracy report further shows more than 300 people were taken hostage at sea last year and 21 were injured, nearly all with guns or knives.¬† It added that a total of 12 vessels were hijacked, 202 were boarded, 22 were fired upon and a further 28 reported attempted attacks.
‚ÄúThe single biggest reason for the drop in worldwide piracy is the decrease in Somali piracy off the coast of East Africa,‚Äù said Pottengal Mukundan, Director of IMB, whose Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) has monitored world piracy since 1991.
IMB says Somali pirates have been deterred by a combination of factors, including the key role of international navies, the hardening of vessels, the use of private armed security teams, and the stabilizing influence of Somalia‚Äôs central government.‚ÄúIt is imperative to continue combined international efforts to tackle Somali piracy. Any complacency at this stage could re-kindle pirate activity,‚Äù warned Captain Mukundan.
Meanwhile, Paramount Group, Africa‚Äôs largest privately owned defence and aerospace business said¬† there were over 360 attacks on merchant shipping at November 2013.
It further advised that without action by West African governments, the figure could rise to over 700 incidents in 2014, representing an average of two attacks every day of the year.
It further said piracy threatens more than just oil and gas assets.
‚ÄúCriminal gangs at sea are responsible for drug trafficking, arms smuggling, dumping of toxic waste, illegal bunkering and illegal fishing. This is in addition to the problems caused by the profits from piracy that finance other criminal activity such as terrorism and human trafficking¬† that have a significant human and financial cost‚Äù says James Fisher, CEO of Paramount Naval Systems.
Continuing, he said: ‚ÄúAs stronger counter-piracy measures have developed in East Africa, criminal organisations have come to see coastal assets in West Africa as soft targets. The result is that the waters of the Gulf of Guinea are now the most dangerous in Africa for merchant shipping.
‚ÄúWest African nations are rapidly developing their oil and gas infrastructure to capitalise on existing assets and exploit new offshore discoveries. These assets can serve as the driver of long-term economic development in these countries, boosting industry, creating thousands of jobs and bringing in billions of dollars of foreign investment.
‚ÄúUnless it is tackled quickly and effectively, piracy could do serious damage to Nigeria‚Äôs oil and gas industry, slowing development for years to come‚Äù.