Bertrand Monnet is an unusual academic. A professor at EDHEC Business School in France, he teaches students how to spot and nullify criminal risk in corporations. Regarded as an expert on piracy, Monnet has also travelled far and wide. He has met sea pirates of West Africa, members of Italian mafia and Japanese Yakuza to understand his own work better. In an email interview with Avijit Ghosh, he explains how the sea pirates operate in West Africa and more:
In April this year, five Indian sailors were taken hostage by sea pirates off Nigerian waters. They were released after spending a dreadful 69 days. Where are such pirates from?
The pirates operating in the Gulf of Guinea are mostly Nigerians, originating from three states in the south of the country: Delta, Rivers and Bayelsa. They belong to local communities of the Niger Delta. Most of them belong to the Ijaw community of the region.
What is the organisational structure of these gangs?
These groups are composed of 15 to 50 men. But they are not constantly together: they live in villages or towns of the region most of the time, and join their camps in the bush when they have a “job” – an attack to be committed offshore.
They spend a couple of days before the attack at the camp, leave from there for the attack and then come back. After the payment of their salaries, most of them leave the camp as soon as possible in order not to be caught by the Nigerian security forces. When they abduct hostages offshore, a dozen pirates stay to guard them on a nearby little camp, really difficult to access in the creeks.
How well are they armed?
The equipment and weaponry of the pirates are variable. These are most of the time limited but still absolutely efficient. The typical equipment is composed of two to three wooden speedboats equipped with one or two 200 horsepower engines. Their weaponry is composed of AK-47 rifles, and less commonly, machine guns and rocket launchers.
In 2018, International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre recorded 201 incidents. How can this condition be minimised?
The oil and gas and shipping companies can reduce their exposure to piracy attacks by setting up efficient security measures, based on the mobilisation of Nigerian navy units to protect their ships, platforms and barges (which is legal and recommended in Nigeria). This is yet clearly insufficient to tackle piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. The only efficient and sustainable solution relies on tackling the roots of piracy: poverty and corruption, which motivate youths of local communities to involve themselves in this form of violent criminality.
Once a group is taken captive, how is the process of their release generally conducted?
When hostages are taken, several possibilities exist to release them. First, it is rarely possible that the security forces localise them and try to release them by military action, which is really dangerous for the hostages. Most of the time, the hostages are released after four to six weeks of negotiation between the pirates and specialised consultants hired by the companies. Once the agreement on the ransom is fixed, the ransom is paid by the company itself or, more commonly, by its insurance company, if the victims are insured for abduction for ransom.
What precautions would you advise a company operating in pirate-infested seas?
At short term, the most efficient protection is to design and set up on-board security disposals managed by security consultants and mobilising Nigerian navy soldiers.
A 2010 paper estimated that the economic cost of maritime piracy was $7-12 billion every year. Does that number hold true today?
These projections are interesting but impossible to confirm.
You were abducted by a Brazilian drug cartel in 2016. What did you learn from that incident?
Being abducted is a difficult experience. But there are as many situations as victims and abductors. I have not been kept as long as the Indian sailors. I have been kept about eight hours. I have been threatened to death and constantly pressured by my abductors, who belonged to the most dangerous mafia of Brazil, composed of 4,000 criminals. My life was spared by one of their chiefs.
Whatever the type of abduction, victims have to try and keep control during the detention, and, especially, after the release. I did not suffer from that, but post traumatism syndromes can affect any victim of abduction, and turn a brief piracy attack into years-long disability for its victims.
*Culled from: The Times Of India