26 June 2013, News Wires – The heads of states of 25 countries in and around the increasingly dangerous waters of the Bight of Benin have agreed to set up an inter-regional coordinating centre in Cameroon to address the issue, according to reports.
This was the outcome of a special summit on maritime safety and security in the Cameroonian capital of Yaounde, informed by the escalation in assaults on assets this year and towards the end of last year.
The agreement was struck between the Economic Community of Central African States, the Economic Community of West African States and the Gulf of Guinea Commission.
Most of the piracy and maritime crime which affects commercial shipping and the offshore oil and gas industry occurs in waters off Nigeria, Africa’s top oil producer.
President Goodluck Jonathan said at the meeting: “The only way we can contain (piracy) is for the countries within the Central African Region and West African Region to come together.
“Already, Nigeria and Benin have been partnering but we need to expand across the coast, the West African Coast and the Central African Coast.
“So, this is the beginning of the end of these excesses of piracy, so we are quite pleased with the conference.”
Earlier this week, African leaders called for the deployment in the region of an international naval force akin to that seen off Somalia to combat piracy.
Speaking at the summit, Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara said: “I urge the international community to show the same firmness in the Gulf of Guinea as displayed in the Gulf of Aden, where the presence of international naval forces has helped to drastically reduce acts of piracy.”
A joint report released last week by the Oceans Beyond Piracy group showed that, although the number of seafarers affected by piracy worldwide “decreased significantly” last year, incidents off West Africa now affect more seafarers than off Somalia, an area which has dominated the piracy headlines for years.
In total 966 seafarers were attacked by pirates off West Africa last year with 800 on vessels that were boarded and 206 hostages taken. This is compared to 851 crew attacked off Somalia where 381 were on vessels which were boarded there and 349 were taken hostage.
Although the average period of detention for a hostage of Somali pirates was 11 months last year, it is just four days off West Africa. However, seafarers are generally subjected to closer and more violent contact with attackers, the report said.
Piracy off West Africa cost the shipping and offshore industries nearly $1 billion last year, the report also said.
The sentiments in the report echo those made by Norwegian security analyst firm Bergen Risk Solutions in a recent report where it said piracy off Nigeria was “out of control” in some areas.
Waters off Bayelsa and Rivers states have been particularly plagued by heavily-armed groups with attacks on offshore and merchant vessels typically comings in swathes within the space of a day or few days.
One goal of the yet-to-be-established inter-regional coordinating centre would surely be to encourage more reporting of attacks by stakeholders in an effort to share information to stem the tide of assaults.
The issue of a chronic lack of reporting of incidents in the region was brought to light most recently by the kidnapping of four crew members from a Jaya Holdings-owned tug off Nigeria a fortnight ago. Upstream revealed last week that it took the ship manager and operator six days to inform Jaya of the incident. The seafarers were released last Saturday, Upstream reported on Tuesday.