UN Warns of New Piracy Dynamics in the Gulf of Guinea
The Gulf of Guinea is safer than it used to be, with a steady decline in piracy incidents and armed robbery at sea reported in the past year.
new report by the UN Secretary General says that may be due to a shift in tactics by criminal networks to the theft of oil, known as “bunkering”.A
The Gulf of Guinea lies off the West African coast from Senegal to Angola and is a major shipping route for oil and gas, as well as a zone for international fishing. The area has a history of criminals changing tactics to meet shifting economic conditions.
Over the past 15 years, this area has become one of the world’s hotspots for maritime piracy, fostering a variety of crime patterns such as armed attacks, vessel boarding and hijacking, kidnappings and assassination of crew members.
The years between 2016 and 2021 especially saw a rise in kidnappings for ransom, which peaked in 2020 when approximately 140 people were abducted at sea, according to a study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Global Maritime Crime Program.
But this spike in kidnappings and other crimes began to drop significantly in April 2021, the report found.
The UN praised the cooperative efforts by national authorities to counter piracy, such as increased naval patrols by the Nigerian Navy, coupled with the support of their regional and international counterparts, but said it may also be due to a change in strategy on the part of criminal groups.
“Pirate groups are adapting to changing dynamics both at sea and in coastal areas,” Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Africa, told the Security Council last week in presenting the report.
“In this respect, the recent decrease in instances of piracy may in part be attributable to the shift by criminal networks to other forms of maritime and riverine crime, such as oil bunkering and [various other forms of] theft, which they likely view as both less risky and more profitable,” Pobee said.
She said it is imperative for the Gulf of Guinea States and their regional and international partners not only to sustain their efforts and remain vigilant, but also to step up efforts to establish a safe and stable nautical environment.
Widespread poverty, poor public services, and the growing economic pressures of climate change have combined with illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing to fuel the growth of piracy in the gulf, the report found.
According to the report, back in 2005 crime in the gulf was mostly criminals boarding and robbing oil and gas support vessels. From 2010 to 2015, their tactics evolved to add hijacking and kidnappings, still primarily targeting tankers loaded with refined products.
Due to several factors including the global collapse in oil prices, these instances of “petro-piracy” decreased over time and had almost disappeared by 2016, supplanted by kidnappings for ransom.
The report said that as the overall number of incidents dropped, criminal activity also shifted south towards central Africa to evade the increased patrols by the Nigerian Navy.
Another concern addressed in the report was a growing risk of “a spillover of the terrorist threat from the central Sahel towards the Gulf of Guinea.”
“At present, there is no firm evidence to suggest any potential or possible linkages between terrorist and pirate groups,” Pobee told the Security Council. “However, addressing the underlying social, economic, and environmental challenges faced by communities in the region will ultimately serve to contain both threats,” she said.