NMS Report Highlights Continued Somali Piracy; New Threat in Gulf of Guinea

Source: Insurance Journal, 11 August 2011

A report compiled by David Rider of Neptune Maritime Security points out that, despite the “best efforts of the world’s navies and EU NAVFOR in particular, pirate attacks continue in the area off the Horn of Africa- Somalia, the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. In addition the attacks are “becoming more violent and pirates were taking much greater risks,” according to the July report from the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre.

Worse still, the report notes that the apparent success of the Somali pirates has inspired “criminals in other parts of the African continent” to emulate them, specifically in the Gulf of Guinea and off the coast of West Africa. Earlier this week London’s marine insurance market added Benin to a list of areas deemed high risk due to an escalation of pirate attacks.

The Gulf of Guinea is an area that is emerging as a trade hub. It takes in a “dozen countries from the tip of Northwest Africa to Angola in the South. It is a valuable source of oil, and pirates in the region are currently targeting diesel and oil tankers in particular,” said Neptune’s report.

However, so far very little effort has been directed at this new piracy threat, both as a result of “weak coastal defenses,” and the fact that the coastline itself offers a multitude of places for pirates to hide.

While Somali pirates can at least point to the fact that they are simply trying to survive in a failed and violent state, wracked by war and famine, the report notes that “piracy or, more correctly, criminal attacks upon vessels in the Gulf of Guinea region, is simply that: maritime banditry in an area insufficiently protected by the world’s navies.” In many cases they are even surreptitiously backed by the governments of the countries from which they operate.

Unlike the Indian Ocean, there are virtually no international warships patrolling the Gulf of Guinea, which leaves any effort to apprehend pirates in the hands of local forces, such as the Benin Navy.

The report also notes that it’s been rumored that a number of shipping companies don’t report pirate attacks “for fear of increasing their insurance premiums.” They may be correct, as a report on businessday.co.za suggested that, “insurance items due to piracy have doubled the costs of transporting goods past the Horn of Africa.”

The countries that import the oil and minerals from the area would seem to have an interest in stopping the attacks before they escalate further. They’re also in a position to do so. Neptune’s report points out that a “concerted effort by the world’s navies, in league with countries such as Nigeria, Cameroon and Benin, could nip the problem in the bud, long before it escalates to proportions rivaling Somalia and the Gulf of Aden.”

Meetings with representatives of the countries involved have been scheduled, notably one with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to consult with the “maritime administrations in Togo, Republic of Benin and Nigeria,” and to “meet with relevant stakeholders to deliberate on ways of enhancing maritime safety in the region.”

However, Neptune’s analysis isn’t very optimistic. The report concludes: “An immediate solution to the problems being experienced by seafarers in the area would not appear to be on the horizon. This, however, is a work in progress. In the meantime, the job of securing cargoes, crews and corporate reputations will likely fall upon the private security provider, meaning insurance discounts and a significant sense of relief in both boardrooms and bridges.”

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