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Bimco: W. African Nations Should Prosecute Captured Pirates

prosecution of suspect pirates in Gulf of Guines
Bimco calls for African countries to prosecute pirates after capture by international navies (file photo)

Published Jan 7, 2022 3:09 PM by The Maritime Executive

Responding to the release by Danish prosecutors of three Nigerians accused of acts of piracy against commercial shipping, Bimco released a statement on behalf of the shipping industry calling for countries in the Gulf of Guinea region to take responsibility and step-up prosecution efforts when pirates are apprehended by international navies. The statement came as the one individual remaining in custody arrived in Denmark and today appeared in court in Copenhagen.

The 39-year-old Nigerian man provided the court his account of how the incident unfolded on November 24 when the Danish frigate engaged in a gun battle with a small boat that it believed was attempting a pirate attack on a commercial ship. Four Nigerians were killed, four apprehended, and one is believed to have drowned after going overboard from the small boat.

The suspect admitted to the court that he was in the small boat saying that he had gone to make some money. He, however, contends that the guns aboard the boat were only to protect them from the Nigerian security forces. He alleged that the helicopter from the Danish Esbern Snare first fired upon them and then they spotted the small boat approaching. One of the others in the boat said that the Danes were trying to kill them and he told the court they only returned fire to defend themselves from the Danes.

Danish prosecutors told a different story saying that the sailors were attempting to apprehend the small boat and fired warning shots. They charge that the pirates began shooting at the sailors and they returned fire killing the four. When the Danes approached the boat, the pirate said it was sinking and that the Danish sailors told him to swim to their boat and while he was floating in the water, he was hit by the propeller of the boat causing the injury to his leg. The medical team aboard the Esbern Snare determined the leg was infected and amputated it before sending him to a hospital in Ghana.

“The presence of international navies is a very important step in the right direction to keep seafarers safe but establishing a sustainable security situation in the Gulf of Guinea cannot happen without full support of the region,” said Bimco Secretary General and CEO, David Loosley. “Bringing suspected pirates to justice is best done by regional coastal states.”

Bimco points to the dramatic decline in pirate activity in the last months of 2021 saying that since the arrival of international navies, the number of pirate attacks and kidnapped seafarers in the region has dropped significantly. They compared estimates of 23 attacks with 50 seafarers who were kidnapped in the last quarter of 2020 versus a decline to seven attacks and 20 kidnappings in the last quarter of 2021. While they acknowledged that Gulf of Guinea coastal states are increasingly focus on maritime security, they also highlight challenges such as Nigeria’s Deep Blue which Bimco reports is still not deployed on active antipiracy operations.

“If regional coastal states help prosecute apprehended pirates it will significantly strengthen the case for capacity-building and support from the international community and underpin the development of the blue economy in West Africa,” says BIMCO’s Head of Maritime Safety and Security, Jakob Larsen.

Denmark found itself in the difficult situation that it does not have an extradition treaty with Nigeria to facilitate the handover of three of the suspects. Unable to reach an agreement with a neighboring state to prosecute the suspects, Denmark decided to release the three. However, for the fourth person, who was still in Ghana, Denmark said it had a responsibility and was unable to make arrangements for him to stay in West Africa.

The one suspect was flown yesterday to Copenhagen and today presented to the court. He is being charged with attempting to kill the Danish sailors. He pleaded not guilty saying he did not fire on the sailors but the court ordered him held till February first. His lawyers are arguing that it is an injustice to hold him for prosecution because he lost his leg while the other three were released.

Meanwhile, the Esbern Snare's anti-piracy patrol continues in the Gulf of Guinea, and the crew's challenges are not yet over. The Danish Defence Command confirmed to DR on Friday that there is an outbreak of COVID-19 on board the ship. "The outbreak does not affect the ship's and crew's ability to solve the task of patrolling the Gulf of Guinea," the command said in a statement.