Gulf of Guinea, a piracy hotspot

Nowhere on Earth do pirates strike more often than the Gulf of Guinea, where more than 130 sailors were taken hostage last year.

By   |  Published: 25th Feb 2021  5:22 pm

The waters of the Gulf of Guinea are the most dangerous in the world, with 130 kidnappings in 22 pirate attacks in 2020. There are concerns that the cost of doing business in Nigeria and other nations in the Gulf of Guinea might shoot up, going by the renewed threat of maritime piracy. Let’s read more about the perennial problem in the area and the reasons behind it…

Nowhere on Earth do pirates strike more often than the Gulf of Guinea, where more than 130 sailors were taken hostage last year. The area is more dangerous than the Somali coast. The EU wants to do something about it. The container ship Mozart was more than 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers/230 miles) off the Nigerian coast in January when the pirates struck out of nowhere.

Media outlets published reports of dramatic scenes on board the vessel: While the ship’s crew cowered in a safe room fearing for their lives, the pirates quietly set about their work getting to them. It took them six hours to break open the door to the so-called Citadel but they did it. In the end, one crew member was killed and 15 others were kidnapped. The men have since been freed, but it remains unclear if ransom money was paid for their release.

According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), there were 135 maritime kidnappings recorded in 2020 —and 130 of them took place in the Gulf of Guinea. Much like the capture of the Mozart, many of those kidnappings followed an increasingly dangerous script.

Strategic, vulnerable trade routes

Increasingly bold kidnappers are creating fear around the world, and especially in the important sea lanes that traverse the Gulf of Guinea. This area facilitates trade between southern and western Africa, and is a key route for valuable goods such as crude oil emanating from Angola and Nigeria.

Since 2014, the EU has contributed more than €55 million ($66.7 million) to the fight against piracy. This has included security upgrades for harbours and programmes designed to improve cooperation between security forces in the region.

More European cooperation on the Gulf

In January, EU heads of state and government took things a step further. A number of European navy vessels are already active in the region and these are to be networked in the future in order to communicate patrol responsibilities and exchange information on pirate activity.

Whether navy vessels rush to help others under attack is decided on a national case-by-case basis. In November, for instance, an Italian fleet used a helicopter to chase off pirates who had boarded a Danish ship.

A glimmer of hope

There have been small signs of encouragement: Nigeria, for instance, has invested roughly €165 million in improved surveillance systems, ships and airplanes. The recently appointed naval chief of staff, Rear Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo, has ordered his officers to take a hardened approach to pirates. In January, a navy vessel rushed to assist a container ship that had been attacked just off the coast.

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