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Gulf of Guinea pirates threaten region’s security

There is a lot of activity in the Gulf of Guinea in terms of counterpiracy efforts, as well as trade and attempts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. These factors are about recovery, while having to deal with urgent security problems, in this critical area of the African continent.

The maritime security environment in the Gulf of Guinea needs to coalesce around maritime cooperation in terms of logistics and the prevention of threats. Key ports — including Abidjan and Sassandra in Ivory Coast, the Port of Pennington in Nigeria, Kome Kribi 1 Marine Terminal and the Port of Kribi in Cameroon, and Puerto Macias in Equatorial Guinea — are the outlet for hundreds of millions of people along this Atlantic arc of West Africa.

The protection of the Gulf of Guinea and its sea-based economies needs to go beyond current efforts. The full participation of all states and corporate interests is mandatory for protecting the littoral states, where key ports are operating for the survival of these countries, as well as the landlocked nations behind them.

The piracy problem in the Gulf of Guinea has developed into a curse for seafarers over the past decade. In 2021, the threat that looms for all seafarers operating in the region is being kidnapped at gunpoint for ransom. While the overall numbers of pirate attacks are largely unchanged, the violence, scope and sophistication of the attacks on shipping have continued to increase. Today, they take place across an area that expands more than 200 nautical miles from the pirate bases that are principally located within the Niger Delta.

There are many good reasons to place direct attention on maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea. One is that the human toll is high both for those directly affected by attacks — through kidnapping, psychological trauma or death — and those indirectly affected by periods of stress because of the constant threat.

BIMCO, the blue-ribbon organization that serves as a major contributor for contending with maritime issues, is pursuing a universal declaration to stop these seaborne acts. For BIMCO and the 100-plus country and corporate signatories, these pirate attacks are preventable and are occurring in a small geographical area. In fact, this maritime threat area is less than one fifth the size of the area affected by Somali piracy in 2010. For the signatories, an active naval force with very few assets conducting effective law enforcement could deter and suppress piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. This type of language is important as to how such a naval mission can be accomplished by local navies, or navies from other stronger powers who frequent these waters. Russia, China and Turkey all have such interests, but capacity is another issue.

The key stakeholders in the region, including individual consumers, governments and businesses, are paying increased costs for shipments due to the increased cost of security for visiting merchant ships, on top of the pandemic-related local health requirements. Here, the overlap of social discontent, piracy and lack of supplies because of shipping interruptions is a toxic brew for dissent. This means that Gulf of Guinea governments are prone to the same threat of coup d’etat attempts as seen in three other African countries in the past year, especially those in Mali and Guinea.

Problems abound with the current on-the-ground security situation in terms of halting the piracy phenomena. Research shows that the continued reliance on locally sourced commercial protection services, which are under the control of the local governments, undermines incentives to carry out effective law enforcement and therefore is not a model that will repress the actions of the pirates in the region. This local legal failure shows how deep the problems with governance are in these coastal cities. Consequently, the poor security situation obstructs economic growth because it prevents investment in the Gulf of Guinea’s ocean-based economy.

Shipping in the Gulf of Guinea is an interesting and challenging business during the pandemic. When faced with an ongoing piracy threat — and the piracy issue in the region is not new — there is a requirement to adhere to international treaties, as well as mandates from the UN and the World Health Organization on COVID-19 programs across these states. No doubt that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea is an important part of preparing a capable response to help regional anti-piracy law enforcement operations.

Sometimes these security efforts do not work out, so stronger measures are necessary. Key is the desire to improve domain awareness via radars on offshore platforms and the sharing of relevant information between anti-piracy law enforcement forces and agencies. Most importantly, and probably the most effective action, is providing prison facilities for arrested pirates (ideally in the region) and encouraging coastal states to actively prosecute. The lack of rule of law in the Gulf of Guinea is a big part of the current problem, which is damaging to human security.
Source: Arab News

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