The thriving business of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea

[Please note this article was translated via Bing from the original Spanish]

Ángeles Jurado

Africa beats Southeast Asia as the number one maritime piracy hot spot. Approximately half of the pirate attacks reported worldwide take place or on the coast of Somalia (East) or in the Gulf of Guinea (West). However, the first, in the Horn of Africa, lives a decline which coexists now with the rise of the assault to the merchant or shift tanker in Nigerian waters.

The Professor, consultant and lecturer Fernando Ibáñez (Zaragoza, 1969) specific to the causes of these mutations in the waters off the Horn of Africa and West Africa are multiple, but mainly are in military and security. Three international military missions, military convoys, the hiring of private armed security on board vessels that ply the Indian and self-defense in the form of evasive maneuvers or closure of the crew in a safe area are the fundamental reasons why Ibáñez contributes to explain the fall of somali piracy.

In the case of the Gulf of Guinea, this activity, that develops from years ago on the shores of West Africa, is becoming a business increasingly more lucrative and now receiving greater attention in the international media. Rarely, however, refers to the framework in which develops: widespread corruption, unemployment, abandonment of the State, and theft of oil on land and piracy as labour outflows that twin local population impoverished, militant, forces of security and senior officials and politicians. According to the researcher, Vanda Felbab-Brown in a recent study, the populations that inhabit the Gulf of Guinea come on pirates “a source of investment, an increase of consumption, a local economic activity growing and even job opportunities”.

There are other factors to consider. Corruption, opacity, and fraud that dominate the country’s oil sector are proverbial. A test: the recent dismissal of the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, in theory for reporting the theft of millions of dollars from the national oil Corporation of Nigeria’s oil revenues.

According to a report by Chatham House on theft of crude oil into the Gulf of Guinea, signed by the researchers Christina Katsouris and Aaron Sayne, Nigerian officials and corrupt members of the security forces specialized in the business of stealing crude oil during the military dictatorships. The return to democracy in 1999 gave an opportunity to certain civil offices and political “godfathers” have more access to stolen oil and extended the network of corruption and patronage.

Experts say that the three States that produce more oil – Bayelsa, Rivers and Delta–have some of the highest per capita income of Nigeria and West Africa. However, that money is lost, to a large extent, in accounts abroad and at the service of the personal interests of the politician who manages it. It is revealing that the Governors of eight of the nine States of the Delta were investigated for corruption between 2003 and 2007.

Violence and environmental destruction

Nigeria is the tenth third country producer of oil, with exports that surpassed the two million barrels a day in 2012. 5.4 million barrels of crude oil move daily through the Gulf of Guinea: 40% of imports of crude oil in Europe and nearly 30% of the United States. According to some estimates, the country loses an average of $ 12 billion a year for piracy.

The aforementioned report by Chatham House is focused on sabotage to pipelines and the economy stemming from the theft of crude oil in Nigeria. Katsouris Sayne, piracy in that area of the planet rises in the most important for the security of West Africa today, threat after terrorism in the Sahel.

No shortage them of reasons to consider it so. The area of operations of the Nigerian pirates is in expansion and arrives to the port of Abidjan or the territorial waters of Angola, with an economic cost estimated between 674 and 939 million dollars only in 2012. Also we talked about environmental destruction, political instability and violence, while piracy links are not clear groups armed al – Shabab as Boko Haram. This last terrorist, causing real havoc in Nigeria, has recently declared its intention toextend their radius of action to the Delt

To fight against this phenomenon, the Nigerian Navy has 15,000 men, two dozen ships and a budget of $ 450 billion in 2013, just 20% of the total defence budget of the country.

A success rate of 80%

“The attacks in Somalia are concentrated in certain months by the influence of the monsoon – argues Fernando Ib√°√±ez – and take place at any time of the day, but especially to first time and boats in motion.” Its success rate has been reduced by the military actions and the presence of private security, to the point that from may 2012 Somali pirates do not have able to hijack a vessel that allows them to collect a ransom. In the Gulf of Guinea assaults occur throughout the year and preferably overnight, with moored boats and without ability to perform evasive maneuvers. They have a success rate of 80%. The modus operandi is also different: the kidnappings in Somalia are long and end in negotiation and rescue, while in the Gulf of Guinea quick kidnappings with theft of crude oil are produced to be sold on the black market. The value of the load of the vessel can be overcome to a bailout. I think that there is a decline in piracy in both contexts, but it is true that we work with inaccurate figures. There is no actual data from pirate attacks in Somalia and the Gulf of Guinea. In the latter case, because only one of every three incidents, given the mistrust in the local authorities, who fail to respond to 80% of the requests for help, and the economic cost of the complaint reports. Also influences the fact that complaints result in higher insurance premiums for shipping companies”.

From a purely military perspective and security analysis left multiple variables out of the equation of African piracy. In Nigeria, unemployment and poverty, the corruption of local authorities and the demands of activists and people of the Niger Delta, who demand compensation for environmental damage suffered by their lands and waters, and increased participation in the wealth of the oil that generates the gigantic country governing Goodluck Jonathan.

The document Communities not criminals focuses on the environmental degradation of the Delta by the refined processes and consumption of oil, in the hands of the local population. Robbery and this oil treatment contribute, together with the inadequate maintenance of foreign oil pipelines, to the destruction of fisheries and Agriculture and the abandonment of the common work in the region. Fishermen and farmers are forced to join the illegal to survive oil business. In addition, the lack of public services and the State care and the shortage of fuel resulting in the breakdown of the social contract and are reasons that local communities offered to engage in a business that reduces to zero the ecological, economic and human possibilities in the area.

The Chatham House report portrays a spacious and networks with multiple cells collaborative decentralized which bring together a hodgepodge of political elite, militants and activists connected, armed criminal groups and senior members of the army with the support of the local population. It is going at the same time, weaving a plot of justifications to these criminal actions, which would have a character “economically rational, politically necessary, morally defensible and socially productive”.

Regional cooperation as a solution

The European military authorities do not hide their disappointment in the case of Nigeria. We are not talking about a failed state like Somalia, where foreign naval operations have carte blanche. The area of the Gulf of Guinea countries show their reluctance to direct foreign intervention: especially the Nigerian giant, which is postulated as the military arm of the economic community of West Africa (ECOWAS) and new economic power after the emergency BRIC States.

“In the case of the Gulf of Guinea, is committed to regional cooperation – says Fernando Ib√°√±ez – Las Nigeria-benin of Operation prosperity joint patrols have reduced the number of attacks in the area of Cotonou and there are a number of initiatives that follow the wake of the Djibouti code of conduct, such as the Declaration of Yaound√©”.

The initiatives of African regional and political blocks, although weighted muddled by bureaucratic and suspicions, embrace, at least on paper, a global vision of the problem. They include measures purely police as night patrols or an immediate response, together with judicial measures or intelligence force and, above all, a battery of policies to attack the root causes of violence: bad governance and corruption, lack of transparency in the oil industry, environmental degradation, poverty and unemployment.

Vanda Felbab-Brown’s report points in the same direction: strengthening the capacity of the security forces and collaboration on issues of intelligence which stresses, can only succeed if the countries of the region “embark on a determined and systematic effort to repair the deep shortcomings of the presence of the State in its coastal territories and the marginalization of the people there”. Something that would include effective police forces, not perceived as violent or predatory by the population, nor politicised; the expansion of legal economic opportunities and working with the human capital of the Gulf of Guinea.

However, the presidential elections are approaching and Nigerian political environment is gradually thinning.
The pirates are not part of the public debate, but are unmistakable symptom of the denouncing intellectuals such as Wole Soyinka or Chinua Achebe and evils that afflict a society weakened, insecure and without ability to drive real change from below.

The pirates in the Gulf of Guinea will not cause social alert that led to Somali pirates. There also seems to be a real will to tackle illegal activities that revolve around the Nigerian crude oil, nor by the Government of the country and by Western and African partners. But it is the tip of the iceberg in a context of growing economic and social inequalities, widespread corruption, neglect of the State and a growing malaise that already broke out with #OccupyNigeria and that doesn’t go away.

#OccupyNigeria arrived in wings of the Elimination of a subsidy to the oil. Like almost everything in Nigerian land, it has to do with crude oil, corruption and the gap between rich and poor.


Original Article