GAO: Piracy Remains a Problem, Focus Shifts to West Africa

By JOHN C. MARCARIO, Associate Editor

Piracy and maritime crime continues to be a problem for shippers and the maritime industry, especially in Africa, with seafarers remaining in harm’s in way despite the industry spending billions of dollars in insurance and protective measures, according to a June 23 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

Piracy incidents, ransoms and hostages have dropped dramatically since 2010 due to increased patrols by the Department of Defense and allied countries in the region, the “Maritime Security: Ongoing U.S. Counterpiracy Efforts Would Benefit From Agency Assessments,” report said, but the poor economic state of African countries continues to allow illegal activity to flourish.

There have been 72 worldwide incidents of piracy reported in 2014, compared with 439 in 2011, according to the ICC International Maritime Bureau. Experts, however, claim these figures are dubious because many seafarers do not report incidents due to fear of retaliation.

The Gulf of Guinea in the west coast has replaced the Horn of Africa as the hotbed of piracy activity in Africa, according to the GAO, which called the area “a persistent problem.”

“The persistence of attacks in West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea — including the kidnapping of two
Americans from a vessel in October 2013 — have evolved with pirates venturing farther from shore and using more violent tactics,” the report said. “Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has generally focused on armed robbery of ships in territorial waters of sovereign states and has displayed less regard for the health and safety of its victims.”

U.S. effort to address piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has focused on prevention, disruption and prosecution, through training and assistance to African coastal states, according to the GAO.

However, the report said, “Although the United States has interagency and international efforts under way with African states to strengthen maritime security in that region, it has not assessed its efforts or the need for a collective plan to address the evolving problem.”

President Barack Obama’s administration released a report, “United States Counter Piracy and Maritime Security Action Plan,” on June 20 that outlined prevention steps for piracy in Africa.

“The United States will use all appropriate instruments of national power to repress piracy and related maritime crime. The United States will seek to strengthen regional governance and rule of law to maintain the safety and security of mariners, preserve freedom of the seas, and promote the free flow of commerce through lawful economic activity,” the White House report said.


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