Gulf Of Guinea: Fighting Criminal Groups In The Niger Delta Is Key To Defeating Piracy

Totally different stories have not too long ago highlighted safety challenges in the Gulf of Guinea. One was revealed by the International Maritime Bureau, one other by the French Navy’s Mica centre and one other by the US Maritime Administration.

These stories come in opposition to a backdrop of pirate assaults in opposition to service provider ships in West Africa, notably in the Gulf of Guinea between Côte d’Ivoire and Gabon. They’ve additionally led to attention-grabbing headlines a few “piracy surge” and even “waves of terror”.

In 2019, kidnappings of seafarers in the Gulf of Guinea reached an unprecedented quantity. Assaults in opposition to service provider ships have been recorded off Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea. The realm is typically described as “the world’s most dangerous seas”.

Piracy is a major menace for delivery corporations working in the area. Business organisations have identified that pressing motion is required and that seafarers shouldn’t be “exposed to such appalling dangers”.

The human value is important and hostages aren’t the solely victims. Representatives from seafarers’ unions have pointed out that their members are at appreciable danger for simply doing their jobs, and even crews on ships which are merely transiting are on edge.

Based mostly on an intensive evaluation of assault patterns and total maritime actions in the area, I’m satisfied that it is going to be inconceivable for navies and different safety companies to enhance maritime safety so long as root causes usually are not addressed. Many safety incidents at sea, and notably kidnappings of seafarers, are merely an extension of land-based points.

At the coronary heart of the downside are actions by criminal groups based mostly in the Niger Delta the place kidnappings on land have lengthy been a security challenge. Except the huge safety issues in the Delta are resolved, no important headway shall be made at sea.

The numbers

Past attention-grabbing headlines there’s no consensus on figures. Not even the stories talked about above embrace the similar numbers. That issues as a result of delivery corporations make industrial choices based mostly on official statistics, and budgets for safety companies are allotted relying on the scope and scale of the downside.

For instance, the Worldwide Maritime Bureau reported that 121 seafarers have been taken as hostages throughout assaults in the Gulf of Guinea in 2019. This represented greater than 90% of international kidnappings at sea recorded by the centre.

At the similar time, the organisation solely reported 64 assaults in the Gulf of Guinea final yr. This was a lower of 19% in contrast with 2018.

The US Maritime Administration highlighted an identical pattern in a recent advisory though the total numbers are a lot larger. It reported that there have been 129 assaults in 2019 after 145 assaults in 2018, representing an 11% drop.

The French Navy’s Mica centre, on the different hand, reported a 20% improve in assaults in opposition to ships throughout the Gulf of Guinea between 2018 and 2019 (from 90 to 111 incidents).

Total, numbers differ due to reporting requirements and categorisations aren’t comparable. Related occasions are sometimes categorised in other ways. For instance, the IMB recorded 4 hijacked ships in 2019, the US Maritime Administration famous six, and the MICA centre categorised 26 incidents as hijackings.

Annual statistics are additional sophisticated by elevated consciousness. Incidents that might not have been reported a number of years in the past are actually included in publicly out there information, though they could be linked to different criminal actions at sea.

Throughout my own research, I’ve come throughout many circumstances the place such actions have been linked to incidents broadly described as “pirate attacks”, and not using a detailed evaluation of particular person circumstances.

Such variations underline that annual statistics usually are not essentially a priceless device for understanding points in the Gulf of Guinea. Reasonably, safety companies have to acquire a broad understanding of all maritime safety challenges. Based mostly on such information, a clear evaluation of incidents is attainable, offering the crucial background for industrial choices or regulation enforcement operations.

Extension of a land downside

Assaults at sea are usually carried out by criminal groups based mostly in the Niger Delta. All through the area, there is an ample provide of foot troopers and camps in distant places the place hostages might be held throughout negotiations, the stipulations for a profitable enterprise mannequin.

Violent assaults affected various countries in 2019. These are virtually completely linked to Nigerian perpetrators.

Highlighting the direct hyperlink with Nigeria is necessary. On the one hand, neighbouring international locations are unable to clear up the downside until safety on land in the Niger Delta improves. On the different hand, spikes in assaults are attainable at any time. For operators of service provider ships, the menace degree can change inside weeks, relying on elements akin to climate, modifications in site visitors patterns or naval operations in addition to the basic state of affairs on land in sure areas in the Niger Delta.

Moreover, insecurity at sea is an overarching downside for regional governments. Pirate assaults could also be notably seen. However different considerations, akin to fuel smuggling, illegal fishing or unregulated shipments of prescribed drugs like Tramadol, are normally extra urgent for presidency companies.


The West and Central African area has made important progress in fighting all sorts of illicit actions at sea. Numerous sorts of maritime safety points are talked about in the Yaoundé Code of Conduct, adopted in 2013 and geared toward enhancing maritime safety in West and Central Africa.

Nonetheless, human and monetary assets are scarce and maritime safety is usually thought to be much less necessary than land-based safety challenges which straight have an effect on home populations.

However insecurity at sea has a major financial influence by hurting actions associated to the maritime surroundings. Maritime enterprise plans subsequently should embrace security-related expenditures for navies, coastguards and different authorities companies. These are wanted to maximise the potential of the maritime surroundings. This, in flip, would present that higher maritime safety has direct advantages for financial development and growth.