09/23/2013 Andrew Elwell - DefenceIQ
Somali piracy in the Gulf of Aden was a $150 million business in 2011, the result of tens of thousands of hijackings. A report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) states that in 2013, this has fallen to zero. Nothing. Not one successful hijacking for ransom.
That’s an astonishing turnaround. The report, Transnational Organized Crime in Eastern Africa: A Threat Assessment, asserts that international cooperation has been pivotal to eradicating the issue of East African piracy.
But what about piracy off the West coast of Africa?
While piracy in the Gulf of Aden has been contained, the Gulf of Guinea off the Nigerian coast now offers a new challenge for African security forces.
“The Gulf of Guinea has become one of the most dangerous maritime areas in the world and piracy and sea robbery have become one of the most potent threats,” said Ghana’s Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Geofrey Biekro, at a recent conference on maritime security in Africa. “Therefore, criminal gangs are taking advantage of our failure to collaborate at the operational and tactical levels. They commit offence in territorial waters of one country and then move to another country for protection.”
While the piracy problem has migrated west, it appears the solution remains the same: international and regional cooperation.
However, there are two vital points that must be considered before governments and organisations in the region can even think about tackling the piracy issue on the west coast, according to a Defence IQ source who wished to remain anonymous with knowledge of the matter.
“From what I read about the initiatives taken in the Gulf of Guinea they are about to reproduce what has been done in Somalia, without [first] taking into account that it is a completely different issue since the networks are linked to oil smuggling, not piracy for ransom. And [second], building on the following lesson learnt: going after the guys at sea without going after the kingpins misses the point.”
If private security companies take a hold in the Gulf of Guinea they will be able to stamp out the pirates by systematically targeting and apprehending them. However, by the time this happens the organisations propping up the pirates will have accumulated so much money they will pose an even bigger threat on land.
“The criminal groups will need to find a new purpose for their newly acquired capabilities [such as weapons, trucks, soldiers, front companies, bribed officials] that they accumulated on land when everyone was busy sending navies and putting young boys in prisons,” our source said.
If piracy off the Nigerian coast is not to hasten the expansion of well connected, armed, motivated and radical criminal groups in Africa the problem must be addressed at the root and not with the pirates at sea. The only way this can come about is if international governments and organisations commit to information sharing within a framework of greater regional cooperation to identify and weed out the “kingpins” behind the piracy problem.
AFSEC 14 – the West African Coastal Surveillance and Maritime Security Summit – will allow key stakeholders to share best practice and push for greater regional integration and cooperation in the area of African maritime security and law-enforcement. To find out more please visit the website www.afsecevent.com.