By TAMBA JEAN-MATTHEW
West and Central African leaders on Monday started a two-day summit on maritime security and combating piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.
The heads of state and government will deliberate on new proposals and a joint action plan to tackle piracy and maritime criminality in the region.
The leaders are also expected to examine and ratify documents including a memorandum of agreement among Ecowas, the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the Gulf of Guinea Commission on maritime safety and security in West and Central Africa.
Ecowas, ECCAS and the United Nations are jointly-sponsoring the summit which is intended to strengthen cooperation among the member countries to fight against ‚Äúgrowing threats‚Äù.
At the close of the summit, it is expected that the member countries will be provided with ‚Äúappropriate means‚Äù to combat the phenomenon, sources said.
Furthermore, the regional leaders would also discuss a code of conduct on the fight against piracy, armed robbery and illegal maritime activities.
An estimated 996 pirate attacks have been recorded since 2012 on ocean-going fuel cargo vessels in the region and products transferred to pirate ships, according to the International Maritime Bureau.
The source said oil products from pirated ships are sold on the lucrative black market. The pirates are not primarily focused on seeking ransoms to release ships.
The statement said that West Africa has overtaken Somalia in the reported number of both ships and seafarers attacked. The incidents in the Gulf of Guinea had surpassed those in the Gulf of Aden and of the western Indian Ocean.
Of the 206 hostages taken last year off West Africa, five were killed, the statement concluded.