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New Kidnappings as Efforts Grow to Stop Gulf of Guinea Piracy

efforts to end piracy in the Gulf of Guinea
(file photo)

Published May 20, 2021 7:15 PM by The Maritime Executive

After a lull in piracy activity in the Gulf of Guinea, five crew members were reportedly kidnapped from a Ghanaian fishing vessel on May 19 operating beyond the traditional range of the Nigerian pirates. The latest incident came as international efforts renewed calls for action to end the attacks on ship in the region and the Nigerian government said it is prepared to launch the next phase of its aggressive efforts to end the activities originating from its country and in its coastal water.

Yesterday’s assault on the fishing vessel Atlantic Princess is significant in that it marked the first report of kidnapping in the Gulf of Guinea in nine weeks. According to security analysts at Dryad Global the attack, however, was the furthest westerly kidnapping within the Gulf of Guinea to date. That is consistent with recent reports that the kidnappers had been moving further offshore and becoming more brazen in their attacks, possibly in response to the increased security efforts in the region.

Dryad reports that one speedboat with eight pirates approached the Ghanaian vessel which was 65 nautical miles south of Tema, Ghana. The vessel reported that five armed men had fired at the ship before boarding the vessel and sailing it a further 40 nautical miles to the south. The captain, chief officer, second officer, chief engineer, and a bosun Dryad reports were all taken from the vessel when the pirates departed.

Prior to the attack, Dryad says the vessel had spotted “a rusted looking mini tanker” on the horizon with no AIS signal that they suggest might have been operating as a mother ship for the pirates. The fishing vessel had attempted to maneuver away from the unidentified ship.

This latest attack brings to 56 the number of personnel kidnapped during five incidents in the Gulf of Guinea during 2021, according to Dryad. This is in contrast to figures cited by Nigerian authorities who said the number of assaults was already on the decline as they prepared to start the next phase of a broad security project known as Deep Blue.

International attention on security in the region was renewed this week when 125 companies from across the maritime industry joined in signing the newly launched Gulf of Guinea Declaration. Initiated by the shipping association BIMCO and drafted by a group of shipowners, the declaration highlights the human and economic toll of piracy, calling for tangible efforts to end the threat of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.

The International Maritime Organization also released a statement calling for “increased collaboration and action to tackle an escalation in the number and severity of attacks in the Gulf of Guinea.”  The IMO Maritime Safety Committee adopted a resolution in its recent meeting calling on “Member States, national authorities, the United Nations and other relevant organizations to consider strengthening law enforcement to arrest and prosecute pirates in relevant jurisdictions, in accordance with international law and national legal frameworks.” They also requested that the UN Secretary General use funds to support capacity building and look at the creation of common platform for information sharing in the region.

The MSC also urged support and encourage wider participation in the Gulf of Guinea Maritime Collaboration Forum and other safety initiatives. They also welcomed the efforts in Nigeria and elsewhere in the region to curb piracy and armed robbery against ships.

This renewed attention came as Nigerian officials prepared for the formal launch of the Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure program known as Deep Blue. A joint program from the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Transportation and Ministry of Defense, it involves the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Nigerian police and military. 

The combined forces will work on land, sea, and air to prevent illegal activities and enforce maritime security on the inland waterways, the Nigerian Exclusive Economic Zone, and the anchorage off Lagos. The program also is assigned to provide increased security for the Nigerian oil industry and combat drug trafficking, arms and human smuggling.

Nigeria has been receiving international assistance for the Deep Blue program including the delivery of Italian aircraft, boats, and command and communication technology. In addition to 600 troops in a special trained Maritime Security Unit, the program will include armored vehicles for costal patrol, aircraft and drones for aerial surveillance, and fast inspector boats and special mission vessels. A communication and command center will gather data and coordinate the efforts.

The delivery of the aircraft was the final piece in the effort that has been under development for more than six months. Nigerian officials are expected to unveil the full program on May 21 saying that they are committed to enhancing security across the region.

While the bases for the pirates may currently be in areas of Nigeria, the challenge remains that they are widening the range of their activities at sea far beyond the scope of the Deep Blue program. Boarder efforts to reach across the Gulf of Guinea will be required to fully address the scope of the current attacks in the region.