Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea: Vulnerable Trade Routes

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In 2020, 95% of all kidnappings at seas took place in the Gulf of Guinea. There, pirates, equipped with firearms, frequently enter ships, capture the crew, and steal cargo. Pirates are becoming more and more advanced in their tactics and the majority of attacks are carried out in hopes of getting ransom. Piracy creates problems for ships that on a daily basis travel through the Gulf to transport oil and other petroleum products.

How the attacks are organised

Most kidnappings happen within 60 nautical miles from the shore. Oil tankers are particularly at risk of being attacked as they carry petroleum products that many pirates hope to steal and later resell. Pirates approach a large ship, and, after taking control over it, move cargo from it onto multiple smaller vessels.

They also take the crew off the ship and transport the hostages to hidden bases onshore. There they are kept until the hijackers receive the money they demand. Many attacks are extremely violent and hijackers start shooting, leaving the crew no choice but to surrender.

Implications for trade

Each day, there are over 2000 ships going through the Gulf of Guinea. It is estimated that 20% of Europe’s oil and gas supplies come from the region. Nigeria, where the oil and gas sector accounts for around 65% of government revenues, is also of big importance to the United States. The state imports thousands of barrels of Nigerian crude oil each month. Security concerns negatively affect trade moves and the export of oil from Africa’s main oil producers.

In 2017, the cost of piracy in the region was around $800 million. In 2019, the Nigerian government reported that states in the area lost $2 billion to piracy that year. That includes money spent on insurances for the ships’ crews, as well as the value of stolen cargo.

The costs are on the rise and the numbers are likely to be even higher soon as the problem of piracy has been gradually becoming more and more serious over the last few years.

How piracy is countered in the region

Yaoundé Code of Conduct, adopted in 2013, is a product of regional efforts to resolve the issue. The aim of the document was to enhance cooperation in terms of maritime security, as well as facilitate information sharing. The initiative was signed by 25 African states. Thanks to it outlining five zones that are particularly at risk of pirate attacks, 6,000 kilometres of coastline and 12 ports can be monitored.

On paper, the Code of Conduct seems like a framework allowing to carry out effective joint operations. In theory, however, it is not a legally binding document so the extent to which states implement it varies greatly.

Many states prioritise other problems like the unstable political and economic situation, poverty, or organised crime inland. For that reason, piracy remains a complex issue that is particularly difficult to be dealt with. 

Katarzyna Rybarczyk is a Political Correspondent for immigrationnews.co.uk. This is a media platform that helps to raise awareness about migrant injustices and news around the world and helps people get immigration advice.