BusinessDay

Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea falls in 2021

The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) has released figures for the first nine months of 2021 that revealed a significant decline in the number of pirate attacks against ships in the Gulf of Guinea, including a fall in crew kidnappings.

Maritime security efforts in the Gulf of Guinea have picked up in recent months because of the growing threat that “pirate action groups” (PAGs) had begun to present to the parts of the global shipping industry that operate there.

In mid-2021 Nigeria (the epicentre of many PAGs’ activities) launched its Deep Blue maritime security project, while European navies have also been stepping up their activity in the region.

According to analysts at the Economist Intelligence Unit, EIU, it is likely that the fall in attacks over 2021 is a temporary phenomenon.

The average number of attacks in the Gulf of Guinea is traditionally very low in the period between May and September.

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Moreover, although the situation in 2021 has been quiet compared with recent years (that is, even outside the May-September period), it is believed this is in part caused by PAGs simply waiting to see if the international and regional security presence at sea is reduced, rather than by a reduction in pirate numbers.

Gulf of Guinea

Kidnap-for-ransom attacks in the Gulf of Guinea against merchant ships engaged in international trade
The analysts expect that a limited focus on counter-piracy efforts in 2022‑23—something still largely promoted by international partners and shipping industry organisations rather than the region’s (often small) countries—will ultimately be insufficient to prevent a resurgence of piracy in the Gulf.

Attacks recorded in the Gulf by the IMB have dropped in other years (such as 2017) before swiftly returning to their previous levels.

Moreover, although co-operation between the shipping industry and regional authorities has improved over the past two years, broader criminal patterns in the Gulf of Guinea remain a major concern.

This has been highlighted by a UN Office on Drugs and Crime report published earlier this year. This put the ransoms paid for kidnapped seafarers at US$4m a year, a tiny amount compared with the several billions of dollars generated by illegal fishing, fuel smuggling or wildlife trafficking.

Such criminal activities may not be regarded as a direct threat to merchant ships engaged in international trade, but they sustain the criminal gangs that are also involved in kidnapping and robbery at sea.

The EIU said it continues to expect threats against shipping in the Gulf to remain elevated during the 2022‑23 forecast period, with attacks rising in 2022 compared with 2021.

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