Maersk Urges Better Military Response to West Africa Piracy

The world’s biggest shipping company; Maersk Line is demanding a more effective military response to surging pirate attacks and record kidnappings off the coast of West Africa.

Recall that, the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre said in its January 13 report that the number of attacks on vessels globally jumped 20% last year to 195, with 135 crew kidnapped. The Gulf of Guinea accounted for 95% of hostages taken in 22 separate instances, and all three of the hijackings that occurred, the IMB had added.

The attacks have pushed up insurance and other costs for shippers operating off West Africa, with some resorting to hiring escort vessels manned by armed navy personnel. A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S, which transports about 15% of the globe’s seaborne freight, said decisive action needs to be taken.

It added that, “it is unacceptable in this day and age that seafarers cannot perform their jobs of ensuring a vital supply chain for this region without having to worry about the risk of piracy,” said Aslak Ross, head of marine standards at Copenhagen-based Maersk. “The risk has reached a level where effective military capacity needs to be deployed.”

The Gulf of Guinea encompasses a vast tract of the Atlantic Ocean that’s traversed by more than 20,000 vessels a year, making it difficult for under-resourced governments to police. Fringed by an almost 4,000-mile-long shoreline that stretches from Senegal to Angola, it serves as the main thoroughfare for crude oil exports and imports of refined fuel and other goods.

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

Bertrand Monnet, a professor of criminal risk management at France’s EDHEC Business School who has studied piracy in Nigeria’s oil-producing Niger Delta region for 15 years, estimates that a maximum of 15 bands operate offshore West Africa, each comprising 20 to 50 members.

“The Delta both provides the launch area for the pirates but is also where they go back to when they have their kidnapped crew” to negotiate ransoms, said Max Williams, security firm Africa Risk Compliance’s London-based chief operating officer.

Nigeria, the regional powerhouse, has taken the lead in preventing attacks and its navy says it has arrested more than 100 suspects who are facing trial under a new anti-piracy law – the first of its kind in the region. The government plans to commission nearly $200 million of new equipment this year, including helicopters, drones and high-speed boats, to boost the navy’s capabilities.

Nigeria is committed to “ensuring that this menace of piracy is gotten rid of in our waters, so that those with legitimate business in shipping, fishing, and oil and gas can go about their business without fear,” Rear-Admiral Oladele Daji, commander of the Nigerian Navy’s western fleet, said in an interview.