Bimco Calls for Joint Naval Response to Gulf of Guinea Piracy

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By The Maritime Executive 01-23-2019 05:17:09

Bimco has called for an international naval response to the growing piracy threat in the Gulf of Guinea, the world's leading region for maritime hijackings and kidnappings. 

According to the International Maritime Bureau's piracy report for 2018, the Gulf of Guinea accounted for the overwhelming majority of serious acts of piracy worldwide. Out of all attacks reported around the globe, this region accounted for all six hijackings, 13 of 18 vessels fired upon, 130 out of 141 hostages held, and 78 of 83 seafarers kidnapped for ransom. The frequency of pirate attacks in the area has increased twofold since 2017. 

Jakob P. Larsen, Bimco's head of maritime security, believes that it would "not be a complicated operation" to bring the situation under control, at least in military and law enforcement terms . However, bringing the necessary resources to bear off Nigeria could be a challenge. 

“To be honest, unless we see international naval support and close cooperation between international navies and local law enforcement, I doubt that we will see the numbers go down in any significant way,” Larsen says.

Larsen believes that what is needed is to combine capacity building for local forces with more air and waterborne assets in order to achieve a more robust law enforcement presence. This undertaking has precedent: allied naval patrols and maritime security contractors brought a near-complete end to piracy in the Gulf of Aden and western Indian Ocean in 2012, and no successful attacks were reported for years afterwards. 

Some critics believe that the Gulf of Guinea is fundamentally different from Somalia, with too many small boats and OSVs complicating the picture. "I don’t think it is very difficult, nor too risky, and I believe that the challenges are sometimes exaggerated,” Larsen said. “It has been done before in other parts of the world with success."

To further these goals, Bimco is calling on international naval forces to deploy to West Africa in support of anti-piracy efforts. In particular, Larsen has asked the EU, China and the United States to take the lead. Larsen points to the need to protect seafarers from kidnapping - the primary aim of Nigerian pirates, who can earn large sums from ransom payments - and also the need to protect shipping lanes for strategic commodities. West Africa is an export hub for oil and LNG. 

"It all comes down to will," Larsen said. "If local politicians and the international community are willing to support this, then it can be done relatively easily."