Ejiofor Alike with agency reports
Intelligence experts tuesday told a shipping conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, that hijacking of tankers of crude oil and petroleum products or holding crew for ransom by pirates would increase in the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea, which is also a major commodity route, as Nigeria prepares for next year‚Äôs general election.
The experts alleged that pirates use ransom money from ocean-going vessels to finance elections campaign, fueling concern that Nigerian politicians are behind piracy, crude oil theft and other maritime crimes.
The Managing Director of Risk Intelligence, Hans Tino Hansen, was quoted by Reuters as saying at a special session on
‚ÄúMaritime Crime and the Effects on Growth and Development in Africa Region‚Äù that ‚Äúahead of general election, kidnap-for-ransom and attacks on offshore targets increase.‚Äù
‚ÄúThe ‚Äòprincipal‚Äô (protection money) system in Nigeria secures funding to political candidates, and because of that, we see an increase in offshore attacks,‚Äù he said.
Denmark-based Risk Intelligence advises private shipping companies and governments on security.
In the yesterday‚Äôs presentation at the conference held at Clipper House, Copenhagen, which was also obtained by THISDAY from the company‚Äôs website, Hansen stated that West African maritime security challenges were much more complicated than in East Africa.
He disclosed that 71 per cent of all piracy-related incidents in the Gulf of Guinea were directly related to Nigerian crime, while even more are originating in Nigeria.
‚ÄúUp to the elections in February 2015, there is a risk of a relatively high level of kidnap and ransom cases,‚Äù he said.
‚ÄúIn the Horn of Africa, it was believed that 2015 will look a lot like 2014 with a very low level of pirate activity, but beyond 2015 it is not known if the decrease in naval operations combined with a reduction of measures implemented by the shipping industry may result in higher levels of piracy again as the capability, intent and opportunity is still in place,‚Äù he added.
He told the conference that two ‚Äúmother ships‚Äù belonging to pirates are currently located just south of Nigeria and five seafarers are known to be held hostage onshore.
The experts at the conference noted that a general election is expected to take place also in Togo, Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast, all close to the Gulf of Guinea, but these do not constitute the same risk.
Alex Vines from Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International affairs, told the session that ‚Äúthe crisis in the Gulf of Guinea is all about Nigeria.‚Äù
The Danish Shipowners Association, representing companies that account for 10 percent of global trade by value, estimates global costs related to piracy at $28 billion a year due to lower trade volumes and the direct cost to companies and governments at $7 billion and $12 billion a year.
Though worldwide piracy incidents declined in 2013, the International Chamber of Commerce‚Äôs (ICC) International Maritime Bureau (IMB) had raised the alarm that the number of incidents in West Africa had remained the same, warning that they were becoming increasingly dangerous.
‚ÄúIn West Africa, the overall incidents haven‚Äôt drastically changed, but what is significantly different is that the number of incidences reported for Nigeria has increased,‚Äù Assistant Director of ICC International Maritime Bureau, Cyrus Mody, was quoted by International Business Times as saying.
‚ÄúThe distances at which the Nigerian pirates have gone and successfully hijacked vessels or boarded vessel and kidnapped crews ‚Ä¶ is a significant change since previous years,‚Äù Mody added.
Pirate attacks off Nigeria have increased by one- third in 2014 as ships passing through the Gulf of Guinea have come under threat from gangs seeking to snatch cargoes or hold crews for ransom.
Apart from the joint global efforts to tackle piracy at the Gulf of Guinea through maritime patrol, the Nigerian Navy has installed at least eight automated, camera-equipped surveillance towers in the waters just off Nigerian coast.