Pirates hijack tanker in Gulf of Guinea, 24 hostages

While we’re still focused on piracy along the East African coast (and rightly so… let’s not take our eyes off that ball) we should be paying increased attention to piracy in the Gulf of Guinea – West Africa’s own “Pirate Alley.” International support must be provided to local, poorly-equipped navies. They cannot win this fight alone.

Pirates Hijack Tanker Off Gabon as Shipping Risks Spread

Pirates have hijacked an oil products tanker with 24 crew on board off the Gabon coast, the vessel’s operator said on Wednesday, as a surge in such attacks in West Africa’s mineral-rich Gulf of Guinea threatens regional shipping.

The pirates are thought to have boarded the Malta-flagged Cotton tanker, carrying a partly loaded cargo of fuel oil, on Monday near Port Gentil, Gabon, in the first reported attack in that region in the past five years, Turkish operator Geden Lines said.

“The company is in contact with the families of the 24 Indian crew members on board and the appropriate authorities have been contacted,” Geden Lines said in a statement.

The Gulf of Guinea, which includes Nigeria, Ghana and Ivory Coast as well as Gabon, is a major source of oil, cocoa and, increasingly, metals for world markets. International navies are not actively engaged in counter-piracy missions in the region.

“The attack occurred around 200 nautical miles (NM) further south than the previous most southerly attack, which was around 160NM southwest of Bonny Island (in Nigeria) on 26 April,” security firm AKE said.

“It therefore marks a significant expansion of the geographical range of Gulf of Guinea piracy. It also demonstrates the regional nature of the illegal fuel trade, the supply of which tankers such as Cotton are generally hijacked for.”

Unlike waters off Somalia and the Horn of Africa, where ships can move past at high speed with armed guards on board, many vessels have to anchor off West African coastal nations, with little protection, making them a soft target for criminals.

http://www.maritime-executive.com/article/UPDATE-Pirates-Hijack-Tanker-Off-Gabon-as-Shipping-Risks-Spread-2013-07-17/

Nigerian Navy cannot cope with pirates, oil thieves

EUNAVFOR and CTF-151 operate on the East Africa littoral, but clearly there is a need for a similarly constituted maritime force to operate in the Gulf of Guinea. The Nigerian Navy is outrun by the pirates and an international standing force should be established ASAP. Additional consideration should be given to increasing the operational strength of West African navies via foreign military sales (and donations) and enhanced training & mentoring.

Nigeria: Navy – We Can’t Stop Oil Thieves

By Temitayo Odunlami, Victor Edozie and Ibraheem Hamza, 30 June 2013

Nigeria Worse than Somalia on Global Piracy Report

The Nigeria Navy, an integral force in federal government’s battle against the increasing cases oil theft, may not be able to contain the scourge, Sunday Trust’s investigations have revealed.

Reliable naval sources confided in this publication last week in Port Harcourt that efforts of the Joint Task Force, comprising the Army, Navy and paramilitary agencies, in combing the creeks to arrest oil thieves have not been rewarded with prompt prosecution of the suspects. More significant, the sources added, the barons behind the crime are wealthy, influential and untouchable Nigerians whose continued engagement in the illegal trade would always make nonsense of the efforts of the task force.

“Apparently, government lacks the political will to take on the big men behind big-volume oil theft, hence, the continued perpetration of the crime. It is another aspect of monumental corruption that binds top political leaders, retired army generals and navy admirals, and their business cronies together,” a JTF major in the Niger Delta told Sunday Trust. “They operate, as they always do on big issues of corruption, like a cult. Only themselves can undo themselves,” he declared.

When our reporter contacted the Nigeria Navy headquarters, Abuja, to speak on record on why the security agency cannot stop oil theft, officials declined to give an formal response, but admitted that the navy alone cannot tackle oil theft scourge on and off Nigerian waters, and that it would take international collaboration among countries in the Gulf of Guinea to completely succeed in combating it.

The headquarters referred to a recent meeting in Cameroon along this line and forwarded to our reporter a statement by the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon commending West and Central African leaders for coming together to fight maritime crimes. The UN scribe described piracy as remaining a “serious threat to the security and economic activities of the affected countries.”

The JTF and the paramilitary agencies, after enforcing arrests of oil crime suspects, are not empowered by law to prosecute them in court. Prosecution lies mostly with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Yesterday, the Commission quickly rose to its defence on the allegation that prosecution of oil thieves handed over to it has itself been suspect.

Responding via a text message to a question from Sunday Trust, EFCC spokesman, Wilson Uwujaren, described the allegation as “frivolous”. Uwujaren pointed to an EFCC arraignment last Tuesday in a Federal High Court, Lagos, of 14 persons for offences bordering on oil theft.

The federal government, American government and oil multinationals operating in Nigeria have lately been expressing grave concerns over the extensive damage oil thieves are wreaking on the Nigerian economy. Two weeks ago, West and Central African heads of state met in Cameroun to deliberate on increasing piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, the meeting Ban Ki-moon referred to. Maritime criminality (arising mostly from oil theft originating from Nigeria) in the Gulf of Guinea, which encompasses waters off Nigeria, is now understood to have overtaken the notoriously high piracy in Somalian waters. Last year, pirates were recorded to have attacked 966 sailors in the Gulf of Guinea and stolen oil originating from Nigeria worth $25 million and 75 million euros (N33 million and N100 million).

Managing Director and Country Chair, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, SPDC, Mr Mutiu Sunmonu last Wednesday in Port Harcourt put Nigeria’s annual loss to oil theft at $6 billion. To Sunmonu, the crime has assumed “a crisis situation.”

http://allafrica.com/stories/201307010582.html