Tag Archives: Africa

An International Response to Maritime Insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea

A Movement for the Emapncipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) Fighter
A fighter from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).

The International Crisis Group (ICG) recently released a report* on maritime security challenges in the Gulf of Guinea.  As usual from ICG, the analysis is excellent and informative, with reasonable policy recommendations to address the problems associated with increasing security challenges afloat (piracy, oil theft, smuggling, illegal fishing) in the region.  Unfortunately, there is little chance that the proposed courses of action will be pursued or efforts by regional states or organizations will be up to addressing these challenges.

What ICG calls “piracy” (beyond the traditional legal scope)  is increasing…42 attacks, 168 hostages kidnapped, and 4 deaths between January and September of 2012.  What had been primarily a problem in Nigeria’s Niger Delta has expanded, with attacks or raids in neighboring Benin, Togo, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Cameroon, and Equatorial Guinea since 2009.  In an accompanying Op-ed at Foreign Policy, ICG’s Thierry Vircoulon argues that maritime security in West Africa is important, both to the states in the region that want to benefit by tapping into their national resources, and the rest of the world that increasingly depends on oil from the region (40% of Europe’s oil is imported from the Gulf of Guinea, and 29% of the U.S.’s).

The ICG’s first recommendation is to improve the economy in the coastal regions of the Gulf, thereby diminishing the need for locals to pursue illicit activities afloat as a livelihood. Unfortunately, precedents for Nigerian economic policies in the Niger Delta do not make it seem likely that countries in the region will begin to “boost job creation along the coast, in particular by protecting artisanal fishing, stimulating the local fish-processing industry, providing professional training for vulnerable sectors of the population” any time soon.

The second set of recommendations entail improved maritime security forces for the region.  Once again, this is a laudable goal, but it’s unclear who would pay for expanded and better-trained navies and coast guards for at least half-a-dozen African states.  Even factoring in potential aid from the U.S., Europe, or China it’s not clear how a “donated” navy would be able to be enough of an effective deterrent against local pirates and criminals.

The third set of recommendations revolve around establishing bilateral and regional frameworks for combined afloat operations.  Whether in the context of ECCAS (Economic Community of Central African States) and ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), combined patrols between states such as Nigeria and neighbors such as Benin and Cameroon, or improved intelligence sharing relationships, these types of operations would be essential to stopping the current insecurity.

There are numerous challenges to implementing this sort of regional cooperation. however.  First, “maritime cooperation is still in its infancy and is hampered by political tensions and distrust of neighbouring states toward Nigeria.”  Nigeria and Benin have begun to cooperate and conduct combined patrols, with Operation Prosperity starting in 2011.  However, Benin has virtually no Navy, Coast Guard, or maritime security force.  According to Janes, Benin’s Navy consists of three patrol craft, but one vessel dates from the late 1980s and isn’t believed to be operational, and the current status of the other two donated by China in 2000 is unclear.  Thus Nigeria bears the brunt of responsibility for patrolling Benin’s waters, which is good in the sense that they now have the authority to pursue criminals operating there, but bad in the sense that they have in the past shown limited ability to control illicit actors in their own waters, let alone next door.

The shortcomings of these proposed solutions point to one of the biggest problems with addressing maritime security challenges in West Africa as “piracy,” in that much of this criminal activity isn’t piracy at all.  Much occurs within the various states’ territorial waters, while under the traditional definition per international law, piracy occurs in international waters.  In these instances, the problem is one of criminals based in one state traveling to the territorial waters of a neighboring country to commit crimes afloat.  The difficulty isn’t that these acts occur on the high seas where no one has jurisdiction, but rather, because they happen in someone else’s jurisdiction.  A partnership where Nigerian criminals on the water can be pursued by effective maritime security forces across borders is essential, but seems unlikely unless an international sense of urgency increases.

Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a Naval Intelligence officer currently serving on the OPNAV staff.  He has previously served at Naval Special Warfare Group FOUR, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and onboard USS Essex (LHD 2).  The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official viewpoints or policies of the Department of Defense or the US Government.

*Although this link is a summary, the actual full report is in French, the promised English version has yet to be published

* UPDATE: ICG has posted the English translation of the full report.

Piracy in West Africa: Preventing a Somalization of the Gulf of Guinea, Pt. 1

Locations of attacks in the Gulf of Guinea in 2012 (Source: IMB)

Gulf of Guinea Pirate Attacks in 2012. Source: IMB

On August 4, 2012, pirates attacked an oil barge, killing two local security personnel and kidnapping four foreign workers. Two weeks later, pirates hijacked and held for five days a British-managed oil tanker as they unloaded its cargo, a style of attack that repeated the following fortnight on a much larger Greek owned tanker.

While such events were routine of late off the coast of Somalia, these attacks occurred on the other side of the continent, in the West African territorial waters of Nigeria and Togo. Piracy has now declined in the Indian Ocean—a trend attributed to international naval patrols, the increased use of armed guards aboard ships, and political developments in Somalia—but in the Gulf of Guinea it is on the rise. The region reported 47 incidents of piracy (it is estimated that up to 60% of attacks go unreported) to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in 2010, a number which rose to 61 in 2011 and will likely be surpassed by 2012 figures.

Highlighting this growing danger, Lloyd’s Market Association, a London-based group of insurer representatives, recently added the Gulf of Guinea to its “Hull War, Strikes, Terrorism and Related Perils Listed Areas,” placing the waters of Nigeria and Benin in the same category as those of Somalia and Iraq. Seeking to examine the intricacies of this oft-overlooked security threat, this article intends to do three things in three posts: chart the evolution of West African piracy, assess whether or not a “Somalization” is occurring, and evaluate regional and international plans to combat the mounting crisis.

From Fishermen to “Freedom Fighters”

MEND Pirates/Militants. Likes: Walks along the beach; oil.
MEND Pirates/Militants. Likes: Walks along the beach; oil.

The problem of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea extends from Senegal in the north to Angola in the south, and affects over a dozen countries in between. The historical epicenter is Nigeria, where pirates have parasitically fed off the country’s oil boom since the 1970s. During Nigeria’s first iteration of piracy, the crime began as simple economic opportunism. Ransacking docked ships was common, while bolder pirates—equipped with little more than canoes and machetes—ventured slightly further from port in attempts to board and rob slow-moving vessels. The theft of crude oil from refueling or anchored ships, referred to as “bunkering,” also brought a tidy profit through resale on a black market that spans the continent.

In the early 2000s, a drastic change occurred as piracy, while remaining an economic-minded crime, became infused with politics. The basic grievance was that the federal government in Abuja had taken too great a share of Nigeria’s petroleum wealth, while distributing little back to the oil-soaked communities of the Niger Delta. A plethora of militant groups emerged to “reddress” the oil issue during this period, the most significant of which was the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).

Seen by its practitioners as an effective tool for the “redistribution” of oil wealth, pirate attacks increased dramatically at the turn of the century. From 2000 to 2005, Nigeria’s waters were more pirate-prone than those of Somalia. By 2006 an estimated $1.5 billion in annual revenues for the country was lost through a combination of piracy, bunkering, and militant attacks on oil infrastructure.1

Politically motivated attacks on offshore platforms, the kidnapping of oil workers, and the theft of crude oil has challenged the traditional definition of piracy, as the crime is only recognized under international law if it is committed “for private ends.” Certain incidents are clearly socio-political in nature. In 2000, for example, militants stormed a Royal Dutch Shell oil storage platform, taking 165 employees hostage before releasing them in exchange for talks with the government.2

Piracy expert Martin Murphy concludes that in West Africa, the “line between the political and the criminal is hard to draw.”3 In Somalia, pioneering pirates first made claims of “restitution” for illegal foreign fishing and toxic dumping before expanding into indiscriminate hijacking and hostage taking, driven solely by profits. Similarly in the Gulf of Guinea, bunkering began as a form of economic protest but has grown into a multi-million dollar industry as oil tankers’ valuable cargos are robbed and resold.

Go Forth and Multiply

Not at all a tempting target...
Not at all a tempting target…

Attacks off the coast of Nigeria have ebbed and flowed in recent years. Intensified naval patrols and a 2009 government amnesty offered to Delta militants resulted in a decline in reported attacks – from a high of 42 in 2007 to 10 in 2011.4 Nigerian piracy has increased in 2012, however, with 23 incidents already reported in the first three quarters.

According to piracy expert J. Peter Pham, the gangs now operating across the Gulf of Guinea are “composed mainly of, and certainly led by, Nigerians, with perhaps a smattering of other nationalities.” They have shifted their operations into neighbouring states as the authorities there lack the capacity to survey and patrol their own waters.

Piracy is but one symptom of the lack of maritime order in the region, as endemic drug smuggling; human and weapons trafficking; and attacks against oil infrastructure have threatened to turn West Africa’s seaways into a criminal super-highway. These manifestations of maritime insecurity are linked, speculates Bronwyn Bruton, as international criminal syndicates previously involved in weapons and drug trafficking “[jump] on the pirate ship” as a new source of revenue. This claim was reiterated by Abdel Fatua Musah, Director of Political Affairs for the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), who reported to the UN Security Council that piracy has dovetailed into other forms of transnational organized crime.

Piracy and theft are believed to cost Nigeria 7% of its annual oil revenues. Benin’s port of Cotonou—taxes from which account for 40% of the country’s GDP—is witnessing a reported 70% decline in shipping activity due to piracy.5 In total, it is estimated that piracy costs the littoral states of the Gulf of Guinea an annual $2 billion in stolen cargo, rising insurance premiums, and other security costs. As the menace expands, the export of metals, cocoa, and agriculture products—vital to both local development and world markets—will also come under threat.

James Bridger is a Maritime Security Consultant and piracy specialist at Delex Systems Inc. He can be reached at jbridger@delex.com. This article is a modified form of James’ work with the Atlantic Council of Canada’s Maritime Nation Program publication “From Sea to Sea: The Search for Maritime Security“.

 

1. Martin Murphy, Small Boats, Weak States, Dirty Money: Piracy and Maritime Terrorism in the Modern World, London: Hurst and Company, 2009, pg. 117

2. Ibid, pg. 119

3. Ibid, pg. 122

4. International Maritime Bureau, “Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships: Report for 2011,” International Chamber of Commerce, January 2012.

5. “An Emerging Threat? Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea”.

James Bridger at CSIS

The Puntland Marine Police Force: munificent benefactors apply within.

I had the pleasure of last week meeting one of our newest members, James Bridger, who spear-headed our partnership with the Atlantic Council of Canada. He was in town for a Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) panel discussion on piracy, and the video is now available. If you’re interested in shore-based approaches to the problem and the influence of international politics and organizations on the reports, funding, and arms flow into the region, then it makes for an intriguing view. James is wearing his patented CIMSEC skinny tie: