While the world’s attention was diverted by COVID-19, piracy and armed attacks against ship crews remain a serious problem, requiring a concerted response from the international community at the highest level.
According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), 135 maritime kidnappings were recorded in 2020 – and 130 of them took place in the Gulf of Guinea. This maritime zone is more dangerous than the Somali coast and the European Union (EU) wants to do something about it.
The merchant vessel « Mozart » was one of these ships attacked by pirates, while she was sailing 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) off the coast of Nigeria in January 2021.
Several medias published reports of the dramatic scene which happened onboard. During the attack, the ship’s crew reached the safe room (Citadel) fearing for their lives while the pirates boarded. After six hours they succeeded to open the gate to the so-called Citadel. They killed one crew member and kidnapped 15. The crew-members have since been released, but it is still unclear whether a ransom was paid or not.
“We are seeing that pirates operate with greater impunity,” IMB director Michael Howlett told to the German newspaper Deutsch Welle (DW). “They spend more time on ships. In one case, they were on a ship for more than 24 hours, without any dispute.”
Previously, many of these attacks were primarily motivated by the intent to steal goods. However, more and more seafarers are regularly kidnapped and taken to Nigeria where they are held for ransom in horrible conditions. Different types of vessels are targeted, including container and bulk carriers, as well as tankers and offshore support vessels.
The Maritime Domain Awareness for Trade – Gulf of Guinea (MDAT-GOG) has been created by French Navy and Royal Navy to establish and monitor a Voluntary Reporting Area (VRA) system where all merchant vessels are encouraged to declare position information when they are operating in this area.
In January, EU heads of state and government took another step forward with collaborative initiative among military vessels sailing in the Gulf of Guinea in order to communicate patrol responsibilities and exchange information on pirate activities.
Nevertheless, Kamal-Deen Ali executive director of the Center for Maritime Law and Security in Africa in Accra does not think this is a long-term solution. He asks for more trainee program to African neighbour states in order to develop efficient local navy officers and material such as radar systems.
The Ghanaian executive director reported that most of the pirates came from the Niger Delta in southern Nigeria, a very poor region where the drill of vast oil reserves contaminated local land and water.
Because the two most important economic sectors of the region- fishing and agriculture – were destroyed, many people looked for other sources of incomes, which helped criminal gangs to recruit new pirates.
Admiral Kamal-Deen Ali concluded that if it doesn’t change, attacks could increase despite the EU’s best efforts.