The Gulf of Gulf of Guinea has become a strategic area for global trade borders for West African countries, including Nigeria,Ghana, Togo, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
It is a vital maritime area for movement of tankers, containers, bulk ships with potential for high-level commercial fishing and extraction of valuable marine resources.
The oil rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria accounts for most of the maritime-related crimes in the Gulf of Guinea, like vessel hijack, crew kidnap for ransom, illegal fishing, illegal oil trade, unlawful drug trade and arms trafficking.
According to the 2019 report of the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), the region accounts for 86 percent of crew taken hostage and nearly 82 percent of crew kidnappings globally despite drop in global numbers.
Aside impacting on the economies and security of its impacted states, the Gulf of Guinea has become indispensable for maritime interconnectivity in global trade and national
Figures from the IMB shows a 70 percent increase year-on-year in actual and attempted attacks in the region between 2017 and 2018, while last year there had been double-digit incident reports.
Sadly, Nigeria has remained the epicentre of these incidents in the last five years being victim of nearly 60 percent of incidents over this period, with the Congo and Ghana also experiencing a high number of attacks; the Congo accounted for 10 percent of attacks while Ghanaian waters saw eight percent.
Oceans Beyond Piracy, an industry watchdog, estimates that this cost West Africa over $818 million in 2017 alone.
The problem has been attributed to be one of the main causes of maritime insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea. This was the view of Ambassador Florentina Ukonga, Secretary-General of the Gulf of Guinea Commission.
Speaking on the sidelines of last years Global Maritime Security and Safety Conference (GMSSC) in Abuja, Ukonga said maritime states and member states of the commission should do more to provide youth employment.
According to her, a lot of skilled youths and trainable citizens of coastal communities in member states have not been given opportunities for employment and skill acquisition.
Their natural abilities to master the marine environment, operate maritime crafts with capacities to travel on fast-moving small boats to attack vessels and crew could have been channelled into productive use, if they were engaged to work in the maritime, oil, fishing and related industries.
Inadequate maritime patrol platforms
The Nigerian Navy (NN), despite support from foreign navies and Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), has always complained of having inadequate vessels to police its area of responsibility.
In the last oversight visit to the Naval headquarters by some lawmakers from the National Assembly, Chief of the Naval Staff Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas, said the fleet and other operational capability of the NN is not in doubt.
“Shortage of platforms is, unarguably, the most serious challenge confronting the Navy, considering the vast maritime space to be covered. The platform inadequacy and availability challenge can be traced to the NN’s participation in ECOMOG operations in 1990s, which prevented deployed platforms from undergoing regular planned maintenance schedule and refit.
“Coupled with international restrictions placed on the Armed Forces of Nigeria by foreign nations during the period, efforts to revamp the fleet could not be optimised. Currently, the present number and mix of platforms in the NN inventory is grossly inadequate vis-a-vis the scope of her tasks and the vastness of her Area of Responsibility (AOR).
Overall, this inadequacy adversely affects the NN’s capacity to effectively secure the maritime environment, making fleet recapitalisation a top priority and urgent requirement. Hence, the MoUs with PMLCs only serves to augment NN platform requirement to enable her meet the enormous responsibility at sea.
“The NN has acquired offshore patrol vessels, fast-attack craft and more than 300 inshore patrol crafts. Ongoing foreign constructions expected within the short-to-medium term include the 100m Landing Ship Tank from DAMEN Shipyard Netherlands, 60m Hydrographic Survey Vessel from OCEA shipyards in France and 2x40m fast patrol boats from DAMEN Shipyard in Vietnam as well as 4 x 17m fast attack craft from ARESA Shipyard in Spain.
“The NN is also in the process of procuring Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to enhance our response capability. In consolidation of the local shipbuilding effort, indigenous construction of the Seaward Defence Boat 3 as well as water and fuel badges and houseboats are progressing steadily.
“The fleet renewal programme has evidently paid off with increased NN footprints across the maritime domain leading to the arrest of over 200 vessels and hundreds of suspects for various maritime offences in the last four years, aside the huge deterrence value,” the CNS said.
The challenge of inadequate platforms affects other countries in the region as they grapple with economic problems, political stability and the most recent Covid-19 pandemic that has affected every country and almost every industry in the world.
Almost every country in the Gulf of Guinea area is coming up with some very laudable home-grown initiative to fight piracy in the Gulf of Guinea but these strategies are not centrally coordinated.