Thursday, April 25, 2013

Bulk Freight and Container Shipping Interests see Piracy and Cargo Theft in West Africa Spiral

Only a Political Revolution Can Settle the Regions Long Term Problems
Shipping News Feature

WEST AFRICA – As the fight against piracy in the Indian Ocean continues we have witnessed a drastic reduction in attacks on merchant shipping in the region. The ostentatious carriage of arms on container vessels and bulk freight ships coupled with a finely honed set of procedures for collating and dispensing information to potential targets by the naval authorities has meant the coastlines of Somalia and Oman and the waters between have become a difficult to ply the evil trade.

Unfortunately the trend westward is of a slow spiralling upward in terms of attacks. In the past week we have witnessed not one but two attacks on the same vessel, the crude carrier Cap Theodora was attacked approximately 36 nautical miles off the coast of Principe Island, Gulf of Guinea. During her first attack, taking place on April 16 it was reported that the Cap Theodora was forced to increase her speed and take evasive measures to avoid armed pirates who fired upon the Euronav-managed vessel. Reportedly the vessel’s Ship Security Alert System (SSAS), distress signal and fire pump were activated whilst her crew proceeded to their emergency stations.

The original attack was aborted after twenty minutes or so but six days later a skiff manned by half a dozen would be hijackers found her again 250 or so miles to the North West and tried to board the Suezmax tanker only to be thwarted again by evasive action and the vessels high freeboard. The skiff was possibly operating from a mother ship as an unidentified larger vessel was also in the vicinity.

There is however a significant moral difference between some of the gangs operating off the West African coastline and their Somali cousins. The oil companies have caused immense damage to the local environment in areas of the Niger Delta, often allegedly with the collusion of corrupt local politicians leaving many of the inhabitants who rely on fishing and farming for a subsistence level.

Politically the area is in chaos, just this week The Presidential Adviser on Niger Delta Affairs and Chairman of the Amnesty Implementation Committee, Mr. Kingsley Kuku stated that he intended to tell the US Congress that if they supported the opposition to Prime Minister Goodluck Jonathan in the run up to the Nigerian 2015 elections, he could not guarantee security in the Delta.

Not that there is much security at the moment, very recently twelve police officers were assassinated in the Azuzuama creek region in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area. Historically MEND members have attacked shipping and energy interests in the region but the authorities now say the political group has itself been hijacked by gangsters with a view to commit piracy.

Certainly the western private security firms who are swarming into the region can justify their actions this year with the rising levels of violence which now features in many attacks. Generally the pirates are targeting cargo, be it oil or otherwise, and are driven seemingly by financial, as opposed to political, motives. With 60% of Nigeria’s 150+ million people existing below the recognised poverty line, the escalating number of attacks is understandable if not forgivable.

Someone in Nigeria is accumulating great wealth with the income derived from the oil companies yet the people suffer. Neighbouring Benin has fared no better from the increase in attacks with the associated costs from insurance and security suppliers resulting in a reported 70% reduction in vessels in the past year using the port facilities there, a trade which accounts for by far the largest percentage of the country’s GDP.

The problems in Somalia have been reduced by an active naval campaign operating in the waters, and now on the land when the need arises, of a failed state where the gun rules. The West African states are an entirely different case and it seems only a major political shift, or the withdrawal of economic influences, could result in any chance of a comparatively peaceful resolution to the regions problems. The alternative will see many more deaths at sea which could be the case for years to come.

To see how the pirate situation in the region has developed over time type suitable keywords (e.g. Niger Delta ) into the News Search box at the top of the page. Alternatively the word piracy will result in a host of articles worldwide.

Photo: Obtaining suitable arms in the region is apparently as easy as finding men willing to use them.