The Gulf of Guinea is witnessing a shift in the dynamics of piracy, with criminal networks moving away from commercial maritime targeting and towards oil bunkering, theft and illegal fishing, a development that indicates the global community must remain vigilant.
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has been informed that despite a significant drop in piracy incidents in the Gulf of Guinea in recent times, stronger action is still needed to address the changing dynamics of the piracy in the vast waters. Criminal groups have not disappeared, but have moved on to other activities.
Martha Pobee, Under-Secretary-General in the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, who presented the Secretary-General’s latest report on piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, warned that changing dynamics will require a greater response not only from countries in the region but also from international partners.
“Pirate groups are adapting to changing dynamics both at sea and in coastal areas. In this regard, the recent decrease in piracy cases may be partly attributable to the shift of criminal networks to other forms of maritime and river crime, such as oil bunkering and theft, which they likely consider both as less risky and more profitable,” she said.
Nigeria has seen an unprecedented rise in cases of oil theft and large-scale pipeline vandalism, the effects of which have crippled the country’s oil industry, with production in August and September falling below one million barrels per day (bpd), the lowest levels in decades. A survey by the country’s senate estimates that large-scale theft cases have cost Nigeria more than $2 billion in the first eight months of this year.
Once a hotspot for maritime piracy, the Gulf of Guinea has seen a drastic drop in incidents thanks to the concerted efforts of national authorities supported by regional and international partners, both on land and at sea. Actions such as increasing patrols, the deployment of naval assets, enhanced coordination and convictions have had a deterrent effect on criminal networks.
In a quarterly report released last month, the International Maritime Bureau says that although global incidents of piracy and armed robbery have fallen to their lowest level since 1992, the world cannot afford to be complacent, especially in the Gulf of Guinea. Of the 90 incidents reported in the first nine months of 2022, 13 occurred in the Gulf of Guinea region compared to 27 in the same period of 2021.
In his report to the UNSC, Pobee reports that due to the changing dynamics of criminal activity in the Gulf of Guinea, it is imperative for states and their regional and international partners to accelerate efforts to establish security in the region, as stated in the Yaoundé Code. of conduct, signed in June 2013.
The code, which is approaching its 10th anniversary, promotes information sharing and reporting, prohibiting suspicious vessels, ensuring arrest and prosecution, harmonizing national legislation, guaranteeing resources for maritime safety and security and defining State responsibility for patrolling anchorage areas.
Part of recent steps to wage a coordinated war against piracy networks includes the signing of an agreement to establish a multinational maritime coordination center for an area covering Cabo Verde, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Senegal and the conduct of a maritime exercise involving 17 of the 19 countries bordering the Gulf of Guinea.
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