Gulf of Guinea facts:
- The Gulf of Guinea is an important shipping zone for the transport of goods to and from Europe and Asia
- It is also an important zone for international fishing, and most importantly for oil and gas.
- The area accounts for 25 percent of African maritime traffic and is home to nearly 20 commercial seaports.
- It is the primary access route to and from Africa’s first and second-largest oil producers: Nigeria and Angola.
- Accounting for two-thirds of Africa’s oil production, the region holds 4.5 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves and 2.7 percent of proven natural gas reserves.
Cases of maritime piracy in the Gulf of Guinea and Somali territorial waters are recorded as the worst in the world. In fact, the Gulf of Guinea is considered the most dangerous sea in the world for piracy. It accounted for 95 percent of 195 seafarers kidnapped from their vessels in 2020, the highest ever number, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).
The Gulf of Guinea is the northernmost part of the Atlantic Ocean, and the countries within this territory include Nigeria, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Togo, Benin, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Sao Tomé and Principe, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola.
The Gulf of Guinea is a major route for petroleum products. A large share of piracy attacks targeted vessels carrying oil and gas.
Nigeria contains half the population of the region and contributes more than half of the regional GDP. Oil is the source of 95% of Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings and up to 80% of budgetary revenues. Pirates in the Gulf of Guinea are mostly Nigerian militants and buccaneers.
Statistics on Piracy Attacks in the Gulf of Guinea
According to the International Maritime Bureau’s annual report on piracy:
- In 2020, out of the 135 maritime kidnappings worldwide, 130 took place in the Gulf of Guinea, the highest number ever registered in the region.
- In 2019, 121 seafarers were abducted in the Gulf of Guinea.
- Between January and April of 2021 alone, there were 40 kidnapped crew incidents worldwide, all in the Gulf of Guinea.
- In 2021, the region accounted for nearly half (43 percent) of all reported piracy incidents in the world and 95 percent of kidnapping cases.
Definition of Maritime Piracy?
According to Article 101 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), maritime piracy consists of:
(a) any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed:
(i) on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;
(ii) against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;
(b) any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft;
(c) any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph (a) or (b).’
Maritime Piracy in Somalia
As compared to the Gulf of Guinea, maritime piracy in Somalia has drastically reduced, although experts fear the region is slowly creeping back into the trade.
Somalia has the longest coast in Africa. Therefore, tracking and eradicating piracy in this region is proving to be a daunting task, as the territorial waters are too huge to police.
According to Marine Insight, adversity prompted the Somalis to test new ways of making money. Locals who had ventured out to sea were outmuscled by illegal foreign fishing trawlers and they depleted the stock of fish in these territorial waters and polluted it by dumping nuclear and toxic wastes.
As a consequence, former fishermen joined hands with the militia and unemployed youth to hijack vessels and demand ransom. This was the start of piracy in Somalia.
Somali Piracy Statistics
- The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported that the first semester of 2011 was the worst ever.
- 208 attacks were reported so far in 2010.
- In the area of the Gulf of Aden 249 crew members and 13 ships are detained in 2011 (October).
- In 2010 the number of ransoms that have been paid was 218 million USD
- In 2009, Somali pirates captured US container ship Maersk Alabama (which gave rise to the film Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks) and they captured the Spanish tuna boats Playa de Bakio and Alakrana.
- Piracy attacks in Somali waters peaked in 2011, when 160 attacks were recorded, and incidents had soared to 358 during the the five-year period between 2010 and 2015.
- The number of attacks off the Somali coast fell dramatically to just eight in the six-year period between 2016 and 2021, largely due to stringent maritime security international intervention.
The Way Forward
More than 90% of African imports and exports are carried out by sea. Therefore, maritime security is absolutely important in terms of both national and international trade.
Maritime piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, Somalia, and beyond is deeply intertwined with weak governance, institutionalized corruption, complex criminality, porous border control, misappropriation of development funds, and poverty.
Foreign oil traders, shippers, bankers, refiners, high-level politicians, and military officials are not left out in this criminality.
In order to effectively address the complex web of issues associated with maritime crime, long-term reforms addressing the multidimensional structural problems are required. Problems like disproportionate wealth-sharing formulas, corruption, resource control-led conflicts, poverty, etc.
The governments of the respective regions must show commitment to address these issues and propagate the much-needed reforms.
Also, while it might prove to be a Herculean task to totally eradicate maritime piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, Somalia, and beyond, it can nevertheless be brought to its barest minimum with a strong, solid, and efficient maritime security strategy.
Aquaterra Maritime Security Solutions
Aquaterra Solutions Nigeria Limited is a multi-services maritime company based in Lagos that specializes in Security and Risk Management, Security Support Services, Specialist Security Training, Private Client Services, Governmental and Corporate Consulting and Marine Service Support. Our core services include:
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