The oil-rich West African Gulf of Guinea is ominously emerging as the epicentre of armed piracy, confirms the half-yearly report released by piracy watchdog International Maritime Bureau (IMB) of the International Chamber of Commerce.
Somali piracy has dipped to an all-time low since 2006 with just four cases reported till June as against 44 in the same period last year, thanks to a concerted counter-piracy campaign by navies from around the world.
Data collated by IMB indicates that there were 138 incidents of piracy in the first six months of 2013 compared to 177 between January and June last year. The number of hijackings this year stood at seven, down from 20 during the corresponding period in 2012. There has also been a welcome fall in the number of sailors taken hostage — 127 so far this year as against 334 in the opening half of 2012.
In Asia, the Indonesian coast witnessed 48 incidents of low-level theft from vessels, mainly at ports and anchorages, in the first half of 2013.
The IMB report registers an alarming surge in piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea, mainly off Nigeria, with 31 incidents including four hijackings reported till June this year. The region accounted for all the 30 crew kidnappings reported so far in 2013. The piracy hotspot also saw 56 sailors taken hostage.
Notably, 22 of the 31 piracy incidents and 28 of the kidnappings in the Gulf of Guinea occurred off Nigeria.
“There has been a worrying trend in the kidnapping of crew from vessels well outside the territorial limits of coastal states in the Gulf of Guinea,” said IMB director Pottengal Mukundan.
“In April 2013, nine crew members were kidnapped form two container vessels, one of which was 170 nautical miles from the coast. Pirates have used motherships, some of which were smaller off-shore supply vessels hijacked by pirates to conduct the attacks,’ he said. Mr. Mukundan rued that there was “significant under-reporting” of attacks which prevented meaningful response by the authorities.
Rising incidents of piracy in the region forced the heads of states in the Central and West African countries to adopt an anti-piracy code of action last month at the initiative of the U.N. Security Council and various political and economic blocs.
A NATO spokesperson told The Hindu that the group did not intend to expand its counterpiracy operations to the Gulf of Guinea. “It is primarily a national responsibility for a State to ensure that its coastal waters are safe and secure. NATO has no mandate and no intention to intervene in the Gulf of Guinea,” Lieutenant Commander Dave Benham of NATO Allied Maritime Command said in a communication.
“While all piracy represents a costly and deplorable crime, the nature and circumstances in the Gulf of Guinea are entirely different to those in the Somali basin, and so must be the means to deal with the type of piracy (sic). States must take whatever measures are necessary to prevent their own territory becoming a ‘spring- board’ for pirate attacks on innocent trade.”