West Africa and Gulf of Guinea piracy

Long-term perspective on West Africa and Gulf of Guinea piracy

12 November 2019

In the long-term view, the security situation has changed little throughout the Gulf of Guinea, although it is showing gradual signs of improvement in spite of press reports to the contrary. The highest number of incidents ever recorded by Risk Intelligence for West- and Central Africa was in 2011 - at the height of product tanker hijackings by Nigerian criminals (134). The highest number of maritime kidnapping incidents in the region was recorded in 2013/14 (29 and 32 respectively), at the end of the Goodluck Jonathan presidency in Nigeria, when maritime crime was rampant in that country's waters and the Nigerian maritime enforcement capabilities were at a low ebb. 

Since 2013 and especially over the past few years regional navies and governments have become more active, even if on a low level, in addressing maritime insecurity in Gulf of Guinea coastal waters. Nigerian criminal networks, however, remain adaptable and respond flexibly to security countermeasures. A result of this is the trend to kidnap more crewmembers from merchant ships since 2016 and tougher and longer ransom negotiations - lasting up to 6-8 weeks, instead of 2-4 weeks before 2016. Port security also remains patchy throughout the region and the increased willingness to report illegal boardings at berth and at anchor also accounts for a high number of incidents, which are often conflated with stowaway cases.

While maritime crime will remain a constant feature in the Gulf of Guinea for the foreseeable future, the overall trend suggests that industry and regional countermeasures are having an impact and numbers and severity of incidents are no longer increasing and even declining. Attacker success rates in the region have declined from 80% over ten years ago to just under 50% in 2018. The ability of Nigerian syndicates to market petroleum products stolen from internationally trading vessels has been stymied to some extent by President Buhari's downstream oil sector reforms in Nigeria. Many regional navies are increasing their capabilities with foreign assistance and are providing security for merchant ships at anchorages and on inshore waterways.

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