Gulf of Guinea piracy continues to threaten seafarers

Members of the shipping community, Flag States and Agencies from Gulf of Guinea gathered at the Headquarters of the International Maritime Organization for a day-long symposium on Maritime Security in the Gulf of Guinea. The event, co-sponsored by BIMCO, IMCA, ICS, ITF and OCIMF, featured speakers from regional maritime agencies as well as shipping officials, academics and military staff. The shipping industry, along with seafarer groups, organized the event to highlight the continuing danger to seafarers operating in the Gulf of Guinea.

Opening the symposium, Grahaeme Henderson, Chair of the UK Shipping Defence Advisory Committee and Vice President of Shell Shipping & Maritime, said that “simply put, the high level of piracy and armed robbery attacks in the Gulf of Guinea is not acceptable. Yet it is happening every day and this is not business as usual. We need to take urgent action now.”

Concerns raised by industry were supported by figures from the International Maritime Bureau showing that the number of attacks in the Gulf of Guinea region had doubled in 2018. There has also been a marked increase towards kidnapping for ransom and armed robbery incidents.

Piracy expert Professor Bertand Monnet estimated that there were approximately 10 groups of pirates that were responsible for the majority of attacks in the area, and they were well organized and motivated.

Dakuku Peterside, the Director General and CEO of the Nigerian Maritime Authority and Safety Agency (NIMASA), acknowledged in his keynote address that maritime security risks were present in the Gulf of Guinea, but went on to claim stated that new initiatives underway to improve the joint capacity of Nigerian law enforcement and Navy capabilities could make seafarer kidnappings “history” within a matter of months.

Dr Peterside went on to state that he was keen to improve international cooperation, particularly with the shipping industry. “We have no option but to work together, but we cannot have imposed solutions”, he said, adding that NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy would be hosting a Global Maritime Security Conference in October to seek tailored solutions to strengthen regional and international collaborations in the Gulf of Guinea.

Branko Berlan, the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) Representative to the IMO, conducted an interview with a seafarer who had been attacked and kidnapped in a recent incident. The seafarer, still recovering from the shock of the ordeal, did not want to be identified.

He said that the attack appeared to be well organized and led from ashore. “The first indication I had of the attack was a knock on my cabin door and two men holding guns appeared.” He was subsequently held in a camp on shore, along with other members of his crew. until his release could be secured.