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World’s Biggest Shipping Line Demands Action Against Piracy Surge Off West Africa

2021-01-19 10:00:13
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The world's largest shipping company demanded a more effective military response to increasing pirate attacks and record kidnappings off the coast of West Africa.

The number of attacks on ships jumped 20% last year to 195, with 135 crew members kidnapped Piracy Reporting Center of the International Maritime Bureau said in a Jan. 13 report. The Gulf of Guinea accounted for 95% of the hostages taken in 22 separate cases, and all three hijackings that took place, the agency said.

The attacks have driven up insurance and other costs for shippers operating outside of West Africa, with some resorting to hiring escort ships manned by armed navy personnel. A.P. Moller-Maersk A / S, which carries about 15% of the world's ocean freight, said decisive measures must be taken.

“It is unacceptable at this time that seafarers cannot perform their job of ensuring a vital supply chain for this region without worrying about the risk of piracy,” said Aslak Ross, head of maritime standards at Maersk in Copenhagen. "The risk has reached a level where effective military capability must be deployed."

The Gulf of Guinea comprises a vast stretch of the Atlantic Ocean traversed by more than 20,000 ships a year, making it difficult for governments with insufficient resources to control police. Lined by a nearly 4,000 miles of coastline stretching from Senegal to Angola, it serves as the main thoroughfare for crude oil exports and the import of refined fuel and other goods.

Twenty-five African governments, including all those bordering the Gulf, signed the Yaoundé Code of Conduct to tackle piracy in 2013. It is intended to facilitate information sharing and has established five maritime zones to jointly patrol, but has only been partially implemented and most navies remain focused on protecting their own waters.

Bertrand Monnet, professor of criminal risk management at French EDHEC Business School who has studied piracy in Nigeria's oil-producing Niger Delta region for 15 years, estimates that up to 15 bands operate off the coast of West Africa, each with 20 to 50 members .

"The Delta provides both the launch area for the pirates, but is also where they return when they have their crew kidnapped" to negotiate ransom, said Max Williams, London-based chief operating officer for security firm Africa Risk Compliance.

Suspects arrested

Nigeria, the regional powerhouse, has led the way in preventing attacks, and the Navy says it has arrested more than 100 suspects who are being tried under a new anti-piracy law – the first of its kind in the region. The government plans to deploy nearly $ 200 million in new equipment this year, including helicopters, drones and high-speed boats, to increase the Navy's capabilities.

Nigeria is committed to "ensuring that this threat of piracy in our waters is eliminated, so that those with legitimate business in shipping, fisheries and oil and gas can do business without fear," Vice Admiral Oladele Daji, Commander of the Nigerian Navy's western fleet, said in an interview.

Many shipowners are in favor of a more muscular international effort modeled on the military response to hijackings off the coast of Somalia, which was the global epicenter of piracy from 2001 to 2012. Armed guards and warships by the European Union, NATO and a US-led task force protecting ships passing through the Suez Canal, one of the busiest trade routes in the world connecting Europe to Asia, helped bring the problem under control.

If national governments focus on their territorial waters – the 12 nautical miles (14 miles) from their coast – major naval forces could reduce piracy further up the gulf by deploying two or three frigates equipped with helicopters, said Jakob Larsen. , head of maritime security at the Baltic and International Maritime Council, a Copenhagen-based shipowners' group. He considers such support unlikely because the sea routes are not as strategically important as those off the east coast of Africa.

"There is little international interest in getting involved in Nigeria's security concerns," he said.

The Liberian Shipowners' Council urged the Nigerian authorities to disrupt the criminal activities of the pirates ashore. Improving employment for poor coastal communities would reduce the longer-term threat of piracy, but it does not solve the immediate problem, said Kierstin Del Valle Lachtman, the council's secretary general.

Attacks spread

Although the West African attacks were initially concentrated off the coast of Nigeria, they have since spread to the waters off Benin, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Togo and Cameroon, said Kamal-Deen Ali, executive director of the Accra-based Center for Maritime Law. and Security Africa and a former Ghanaian naval officer.

The number of violent attacks in the Gulf of Guinea has remained fairly constant over the past decade, but kidnappings of more than 10 people have become more common, said Dirk Siebels, senior analyst at Risk Intelligence in Denmark.

The pirates are operating deeper and deeper at sea, with kidnappings taking an average of 60 nautical miles from the coast by 2020, according to the IMB. The farthest corner happened in mid-July, when eight machine-gun pirates boarded a chemical tanker off the coast of Nigeria and seized 13 crew members before fleeing. Only unqualified seamen remained on the Curaçao Trader, which remained adrift 195 nautical miles from the coast. The crew was released the following month.

"The perpetrators of such incidents are well aware that there is almost no risk of being caught," said Munro Anderson, a partner at London-based maritime security company Dryad Global. "That's exactly the kind of incident that an international naval coalition could mitigate."

–With help from Gina Turner.

Photo: The Moscow Maersk container ship docked in the port of Felixstowe Ltd. in Felixstowe, UK, on ​​Thursday, November 19, 2020. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg.

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