A general election in Nigeria on 14 February is poised to bring a spike in piracy in the Gulf of Guinea as politicians seek campaign funding, say analysts.
This assessment could tally with a reported hijacking of a tanker in Ghanaian waters at the weekend.
“Pirate attacks are likely to rise before and after the forthcoming elections,” Cassie Blombaum, intelligence analyst at Guardian Global Resources, told IHS Maritime.
On Saturday 17 January, Ghana’s navy freed the tanker MT Mariam hijacked off the coast of Nigeria and arrested eight pirates, according to media reports.
Colonel Aggrey Quarshie, a military spokesman, said the Ghanaian Navy had “responded swiftly with a patrol team to the area and they were able to overpower the pirates and free the ship”, according to Reuters.
“But when they got there, the cargo had already been transferred to another vessel,” he reportedly added.
He said the pirates – who were armed with AK-47s – are “all suspected to be Nigerians”.
Analysts believe proceeds from piracy are being used to fund political campaigns, fuelling offshore attacks around election times.
Elections will take place this year in Togo, Burkina Faso, and the Ivory Coast, although national elections are expected to pose the greatest threat.
“Some politicians have been accused of receiving money from armed groups that have links to piracy and kidnapping,” said Blombaum.
Gulf of Guinea attacks last year broadened to include kidnappings and hijacking as well as cargo theft.
“In the local news, you hear about people stealing oil inland, but then you never hear about the people that were involved or if they were prosecuted or put in jail,” added Blombaum.
Three of last year’s most significant hijackings in the Gulf of Guinea occurred in Ghanaian waters.
On 5 June, the Marine 711, a Ghanaian-flagged fishing vessel, was hijacked by pirates, believed to be Nigerians, within Ghanaian waters. The Fair Artemis, a Liberian-flagged product tanker, was also hijacked about 45nm south of Accra.
On 25 July, the Hai Soon 6, a Kiribati-flagged tanker was seized by 10 armed pirates 45nm south of Anloga in Ghana.
On 20 August, the Netherlands-flagged tug Blizzard was robbed within Takoradi.