The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) has released statistics that show a decrease in the number of reported West African piracy incidents, but the problem will not abate for good until serious and systemic new measures are introduced, according to the London International Shipping Week 2019 (LISW) West African Shipping Summit hosted by Akabogu Law.
In a presentation, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas, Nigerian chief of the naval staff, pointed to a series of systemic causes for the proliferation of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, highlighting illegal overfishing by foreign nations – notably a motivating factor in Somalia, the other major piracy hot spot of the last decade.
The Vice Admiral linked piracy with other violent crimes common to the region, including resource theft and vandalism of oil pipelines. “The region is plagued by inadequate education and infrastructure, poverty, and youth unemployment,” he said.
But growth potential in Nigeria is enormous, with the highest population of any African nation – 200 million – expected to double by 2040. The potential for investment, indicated president of Nigerian Chamber of Shipping Andy Isichei, is enormous. “Nigeria should be the West African hub,” he said. “It has the population, the resources, and agriculture to support its neighbours.”
But the threat of piracy is still chasing away investors with the means to alleviate the systemic causes, he said. Indeed, work is being done to improve surveillance capacity and decrease the response times to piracy incidents; historically, navy response times in excess of 24 hours were commonplace, but this is changing.
Dr Dakuku Peterside, director-general of the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, confirmed that “social justice” was a motivating factor for incidents in the region. “There’s a perception among the people of the Niger Delta – and I include myself – that they are exploited and not treated fairly,” he said. “There’re also socioeconomic issues, a high rate of unemployment, and the fact that the people who are not involved in the exploitation of the resources in the area – have experienced little or no benefit from this activity.
“These are the issues that contribute to the breaking of crude oil pipelines, tampering with crude oil production facilities in the region, and it’s a motivating factor in pirate attacks too,” he said.
Peterside advised shipowners transiting the Gulf of Guinea to maintain communication with shoreside authorities. “The advice is that those who want to trade in Nigerian waters should please get approvals with the legitimate authorities there,” he said.
Meanwhile, a new initiative, Nigeria’s Deep Blue Project, involves training up a new security force with fast-response craft, as well as intelligence operatives, making for a vastly improved response capability that will provide a credible deterrent for pirate attacks.
“There’re other things put in place to serve as deterrents, of course, new laws punishing this kind of activity. Currently we’re reliant on naval protection, but we’ve been very clear getting approvals and protection from the navy is an interim measure,” Peterside said. “What we want to see is a waterway that is free, safe, and secure for everybody. We want governments to work with different agencies – not just the navy – to provide security for the entire maritime space.”