Tuesday, August 17, 2021

As US Departs Afghanistan the Fight Against Piracy Continues Unabated

International Force Trains to Defeat Hijackers
Shipping News Feature

GULF OF GUINEA – America may be running away from Afghanistan but it seems pirates off the Nigerian coast are an easier target for the US military. This week, together with its international partners the US Navy took part in a three day long exercise training crews how to detect and intervene when required.

After a preparatory two days to plan the exercise the US, along with Nigerian, Ghanaian and Spanish forces, saw the USS Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams, an expeditionary launching platform used as a rapid transfer base for troops and equipment, trialled in both stop, search and seize tactics alongside rescue and casualty evacuation training.

Five Nigerian Navy vessels also worked alongside together with Spanish patrol boat SPS Vigia and Ghanaian special forces troops under the auspices of the ‘Deep Blue’ project, which was originally launched in 2020 but redefined in July with Nigeria investing a reported $200 million in new equipment, to secure the waters off her coastline. Prior to the exercise Captain Chad Graham, the Williams skipper, commented:

“Maritime engagements that include many navies working together really improve our interoperability and collective capability, which are absolutely necessary for a busy area such as the Gulf of Guinea. We’re happy to be working with our Nigerian partners to plan our at-sea multinational engagements, and we’re looking forward to a successful event that demonstrates our commitment to maritime security in the region.”

The hijacks which are all too common in the region really began when local people were dispossessed or lost their livelihoods fishing and farming due to the unregulated pollution and land seizures in the hunt for Nigeria’s oil supplies. The original freedom fighters, MEND, have seemingly now morphed into, or be joined by, a gang of criminals with no other excuse for their actions than greed.

With the overcoming of the serious piracy problems which existed in the Somalian region, the Gulf of Guinea has gained the unwanted title of the world’s greatest maritime hijacking hotspot. The relevant details on the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre sums up the situation thus:

”Pirates/robbers are often well armed, violent and have attacked and hijacked, robbed ships and kidnapped crews both along and far from the coast, rivers, anchorages, ports and surrounding waters. Incidents have also been reported up to about 200 nautical miles from the coast. Generally, all waters in and off Nigeria remain highly risky. Vessels are advised to be vigilant, as many incidents may also have gone unreported.

”Kidnapping for ransom remains the biggest risk for crews. Vessels are advised to take additional measures in these high risk waters. In the past, tankers were also hijacked and part cargoes of gas oil stolen.”

Photo: The USS Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams, from a class based upon an oil tanker and designed to carry a vast array of military assets from helicopters to landing craft. Image courtesy of the US Navy (Bill Mesta)