Nigerian ‘Piracy’

By Candyce Kelshall

Piracy in Nigeria is a misnomer. What actually occurs is maritime crime within the territorial waters of Nigeria. It is not a new problem this issue has been escalating since 2006. This is a problem which has been on a slow burn for years and in fact the number of incidents which occur in Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea exceeds that of Somalia even at the height of Somali activity. Upwards of 100,000 barrels of oil are stolen at sea and on land in Nigeria a day. The Gulf of Guinea has been the scene of intense criminal and pirate activity which has reached as far as Benin, Togo and Cote d’Ivoire. Within the past two years 93 tankers have been criminally approached , 30 were successfully hijacked and 960 seafarers were attacked.

Nigerian piracy also takes a different form to that in Somalia and is not perpetrated by the same groups or in any way related .It is distinct in style and tactics.The emphasis on Nigerian piracy is cargo rather than crew and cargoes are stolen and re sold to fund continued activity.Somali piracy took on a higher profile due to the daring nature of the pirates. Nigerian ‘piracy’ involves gangs climbing onto anchored or berthed ships and stealing for re sale.  Nigerian tactics are more violent and more homicidal than Somali piracy if ransoms are not swiftly paid. There have been five deaths of hostages at Nigerian hands regarding ransom payments. In Somalia hostages are a more long term investment.

Nigerian ‘piracy’ is predominantly economically driven with every moving part of the vessel sold and the crew themselves expendable since there is no infrastructure in place to handle the protracted negotiations and financial transfers involved in large long term hostage negotiations and payments.The average life span of a Nigerian incident involving hostages is usually between one and four weeks. Ransoms are normally paid promptly and hostages released quickly. There have been cases where this has occurred in a few days

Somali style hostage based ‘piracy’  as a business, is a form of investment which takes a long time to unfold and pay dividends. It is a business with payment expected ‘in the future’ and time scales are dramatically longer than in Nigeria. The average ransom payment usually takes between 4 to 24 months  in Somalia. The long lead time for negotiations is therefore a detractor for the Nigerian pirates as the main element of interest is the speed at which a cargo or a hostage can be shifted in exchange for cash.

Nigerian ‘piracy’ is also predominantly the work of individuals leading small closed groups. The crimes are carried out by small gangs and the financial windfalls benefit only this small closed group rather than being shared around communities such as occurs in Somalia.

Nigerian ‘piracy’ is characterised by extreme violenceand  personal injury . The ship itself has little value to the criminal gangs unless it is oil industry related. The crew also has little value unless the hostages are connected to the oil industry. The most profitable targeted catch is that of an oil tanker.Ships most at risk are those anchored or berthed and in some cases workers are taken off oil platforms.

The latter is a tactic by a local activist group who use terrorist means to raise attention to the situation of the people in the Niger Delta where the political activists state that  oil companies generate huge profits and the rest of the area remains under developed and polluted. Their argument has always been that these assets should belong to the people of the Delta.

The group responsible is the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. This cause is cited as one of the reasons for the militant activity which MEND engages in and which frequently involve kidnapping western oil company workers for financial gain and media awareness of their issues. MEND itself is a loose organisation of several armed gangs or militias who carry out operations which include kidnapping and ship jacking for cash. MEND has never been a single entity  structured organisation. It functioned as a collection of gangs operating under a single name. A selection of these armed gangs accepted amnesty in 2009  however a new campaign of activity  called HURRICANE EXODUS is now in full operation with attacks on oil refineries in Warri. This new activity is attributed to an assortment  of operators who were part of the old gangs and  who do not wish to abide by the amnesty or its terms.  Hurricane exodus is designed to focus its attention on oil workers and oil companies.

The activity in Nigeria must then be separated into two distinct categories. Maritime criminals operating in syndicates  close to the shoreline and maritime guerrillas with a political agenda  raising funds for operations.


Article kindly submitted by the author.