Incidences of Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea and Horn of Africa have been decreasing but waters off West Africa remain dangerous and criminal gangs in East Africa are still a lingering threat, according to a new report.
These were some of the conclusions from a recent Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP) meeting that convened 35 maritime experts to discuss the current state of maritime piracy off the east and west coasts of Africa in the runup to the upcoming African Union Maritime Summit in Lom’e, Togo, later this month.
The OBP working group meeting noted that the upturn in kidnapping for ransom incidents in the Gulf of Guinea in the last quarter of 2015 and the first quarter of 2016 appears to have been reduced through a combination of increased patrols by the Nigerian Navy, increased use of contracted security and a refocus of attacks away from piracy at sea and more towards inland infrastructure.
“While the waters in the Gulf of Guinea remain dangerous, regional nations are increasingly able to respond to piracy attacks through operational coordination across the zones developed through the Yaound’e process. Recent examples of these successes include the Nigerian Navy’s armed response to pirate attacks on the MT Maximus in February and the Vectus Osprey in August of this year. International actors are supporting the regional states by coordinating Maritime Situational Awareness for merchant vessels through the Maritime Domain Awareness for Trade – Gulf of Guinea (MDAT – GoG) framework,” Oceans Beyond Piracy said.
Regarding the rule of law, Oceans Beyond Piracy said there is considerable frustration that regional justice systems are still not able or willing to hold pirates accountable. “As evidenced off the Horn of Africa, the commitment to arrest, prosecute and incarcerate pirates was essential in building trust between the shipping industry and regional states as well as sending a signal of regional resolve to address the issue based on the rule of law.”
For the Horn of Africa region, Oceans Beyond Piracy said it has recorded a decline in international counter-piracy spending from $7 Billion in 2010 down to $1.3 Billion in 2015, noting that an effective deterrence has been maintained due to more cost-effective counter-piracy measures and the overall decline in pirate activity. “However, participants agreed that piracy gangs are still organized and retain the capability and intent to attack international shipping. These criminal networks are currently focused on other criminal activity, but are watching to see if conditions at sea become favourable again for piracy attacks.”
In spite of emerging maritime crises elsewhere, Oceans Beyond Piracy said international forces remain committed to support countries in the Horn of Africa/Western Indian Ocean region to deal with piracy. “It is hoped that support for operational issues can be increasingly provided by regional partners and so-called ‘independent deployers.’ It was also stressed that capacity building plans for regional forces are still many years from effectively suppressing piracy on their own.”
The international fight against piracy has seen the apprehension, prosecution, conviction and incarceration of more than 1 000 pirates. Nevertheless, Oceans Beyond Piracy has urged shipping organisations not to become complacent and to sustain deterrence.
“As commercial shipping patterns return to pre-crisis norms, there is concern that a growing number of vulnerable vessels are not following recommended procedures such as transiting through the Internationally Recognized Transit Corridor in the Gulf of Aden. There are also clear indications that the use of armed guards is decreasing in all areas of the High Risk Area (HRA). These developments may risk creating opportunities for pirates to reassert piracy business models,” OBP said. “Shipping organizations still implore their members to remain vigilant and follow BMP4 recommendations while the HRA remains in effect.”