Maersk calls for action over piracy off West African coast

Denmark-based shipping company Maersk has demanded a more efficient and effective military response to the increasing number of pirate attacks and kidnappings recorded in recent months off the coast of West Africa.

The International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre said in a report released last week that the number of attacks on vessels globally increased 20% year on year in 2020 to 195, with 135 crew kidnapped. Incidents in the Gulf of Guinea made up 95% of hostages, who were kidnapped in 22 separate instances. All three vessel hijackings also occurred in the region.

The attacks have caused an increase in insurance and other costs for shippers operating off West Africa. Some owners and operators have hired escort vessels manned by armed navy personnel.

Copenhagen-based AP Moller-Maersk has said that there was now a need for decisive action. Aslak Ross, head of marine standards at Maersk, said that it was “unacceptable in this day and age that seafarers cannot perform their jobs of ensuring a vital supply chain for this region without having to worry about the risk of piracy. The risk has reached a level where effective military capacity needs to be deployed.”

In 2013, 25 African governments, including all those bordering on the Gulf of Guinea, signed the Yaoundé Code of Conduct, which aimed to facilitate the sharing of information. Five maritime zones were to be patrolled jointly. But the agreement has only been implemented in part. Most of the navies concentrate on their own waters.

Nigeria’s navy said that it had arrested more than 100 suspects, who were awaiting trial under a new anti-piracy law.

However, many shipowners would like to see an international response modelled on the actions taken to stop the spate of hijackings off Somalia, for the first decade of this century.

The problem for the EU and NATO is that Somalia was effectively a failed state, while in the Gulf of Guinea there are many functioning states who are keen on maintaining their own navies in control of the area, even if they are not succeeding in stamping out the piracy.

BIMCO’s head of maritime security Jakob Larsen has suggested that if national governments focused on their 12nm of territorial waters then international major naval powers could reduce piracy further afield by deploying two or three frigates equipped with helicopters/ However, he has noted that the sea routes off the West Coast of Africa are strategically less important than those off Somalia. He said that there was “little international appetite for getting involved in Nigeria’s security problems”.