Stephen Metcalfe is MP for South Basildon and East Thurrock. Here he writes exclusively for Maritime UK on the continued threat of piracy off Somalia, and the rising threat of piracy off West Africa
Somalia and the surrounding Gulf of Aden have been at the centre of piracy discussions for some time. This is of course with good reason; the region has a prolific record of hijackings, kidnappings and robberies. This reality however is changing. Thanks in part to the implementation of Best Management Practices and the imposing presence of international task forces; pirate attacks in the region have been in steep decline and it has become increasingly difficult and costly for pirates to operate in the area. Only a few weeks ago did an EU NAVFOR vessel rescue a hijacked vessel, ensuring the safety of both vessel and crew. However we must not get complacent about tackling this maritime peril. The future success of this region stands on a knife edge, and worryingly, some 4,000 miles around the coast, a new piratical centre is emerging.
Piracy in West Africa, and particularly the Gulf of Guinea, is of increasing concern to the seafaring community and industry and as such, it should be of increasing concern to Parliamentarians and Government. On 2nd July I had the opportunity to chair a discussion on this issue in conjunction with the UK chamber of shipping. The event, ‚ÄòPiracy, West Africa, and new threats to UK shipping seafarers‚Äô saw industry leaders, politicians, and interested parties come together to discuss this threat. I was joined by two distinguished experts, Dr Grahaeme Henderson, Vice President of Maritime and Shipping at Shell, and the Director General of the UK Chamber of Shipping, Mark Brownrigg OBE, who provided extremely useful and informed insights into this emerging problem.
As we heard in the discussion, pirate attacks in West Africa have increased exponentially in the past few years. In total, the Gulf of Guinea accounted for 427 of the 1434 reported attacks in African waters between 2003 and 2011. In 2012 alone, 966 seafarers were attacked and 5 lost their lives as a direct consequence of the increasingly sophisticated and target selective attacks. With 95% of our traded goods transported by sea and with approximately 40% of all oil consumed in Europe transported through the Gulf of Guinea, it is clear that any security threat in this key geostrategic area is worthy of our attention.
Tackling this complex problem is of paramount importance and, as suggested by Dr Henderson, will involve a diverse range of measures. Firstly, industry and Government must work together to support data gathering and information sharing. As it stands, estimates suggest that 50-80% of attacks worldwide go unreported. We must accurately grasp the extent and depth of the problem before we can successfully counter it. Industry will undoubtedly play a leading role in this. Secondly, we must encourage and support regional Governments in addressing the problems on their shores. Unlike Somalia, the countries in the Gulf of Guinea have functioning Governments who must do more to ensure the safe passage of ships in their waters. This can only achieved with support from the international community through increasing the capacity of regional navies, supporting them with resources and training, and ensuring that countries that do already have capacity are operating in the right areas.
Ultimately, we must work towards a situation in which the seas are free from arms, not reliant on them for protection. In the meantime, we must look beyond short term measures such as armed guards to the co-ordination of Governments, industry, navies, and international bodies. We must also continue to draw attention to the problem and I hope that the recent Parliamentary event will be the first of many, providing a stepping stone for future discussions which can facilitate the creation of an environment in which our shipping industry, and our seafarers can operate free of the fear of piracy.
This article is the latest in a series of posts written for Maritime UK by political figures. All guest articles express the opinions of the author.