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Nigeria’s navy nervous about uptick in piracy and its impact on the country’s reputation

By David Whitehouse
Posted on Tuesday, 23 March 2021 18:42

A Nigerian Navy unit on patrol. Stefan Heunis/AFP via Getty Image

The Nigerian navy is bristling about reports on the the rise of piracy in the region. Maritime intelligence group Dryad Global has rejected claims by the Nigerian navy that its reporting of security and piracy in the Gulf of Guinea reflects a hidden agenda.

Reports on the rate of piracy in the gulf are a “deliberate ongoing effort to discourage maritime traffic as well as heighten freight and insurance cost” in the region, Suleman Dahun, commodore for chief of the naval staff, said in a statement on 26 February.

Dahun’s statement cited Dryad’s reporting of an incident involving the MV Odianosen vessel as an example of “alarmist” reporting. Nigerian media were told to beware of any “calculated attempt at tarnishing the image of the nation” as part of an “untoward maritime agenda”.

The navy’s statement was an “unusual, unprecedented step,” says Casper Goldman, an analyst at Dryad Global in London.

  • Dryad’s initial report on the MV Odianosen was based on information received from a joint French-UK navy information-sharing point that a security escort vessel had been attacked.
  • When the unconfirmed report of an incident turned out to be groundless, Dryad updated its report to reflect that.
  • “They took it as an opportunity to attack Dryad,” Goldman says, adding it’s “simply untrue” to say that the maritime information provider has underlying interests at stake.

Regional coordination

According to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) a record 130 people were kidnapped in 22 incidents in the Gulf of Guinea in 2020. So far this year there have been three incidents with 44 people kidnapped, which is an increase on the same period last year, Goldman says.

  • Larger groups of people are being kidnapped, the capabilities of pirate groups are becoming more professional and they are operating further offshore, he adds.
  • The attacks are also more violent, with 80% now involving the use of guns.
  • Hostages are usually hidden in the Niger Delta, and the average ransom per head is $50,000, he adds.

According to Goldman, Nigeria is the “regional frontrunner” in terms of tackling piracy. The Deep Blue Project, which involves buying fast-intervention vessels, developing new command and control centres and improving training and information sharing, is “a step in the right direction”.

But much more needs to be done. The root of the problem, Goldman argues, is onshore, in the shape of social and economic stability exacerbated by Covid-19.  A lack of jobs and low incomes makes it urgent to invest in coastal development to provide alternatives to piracy.

Such investments will take years before making an impact. In the shorter term, greater regional cooperation is needed, Goldman says. Many West African countries lack the appropriate laws to tackle piracy, and legislative harmonisation would help to address the problem.

  • The region needs to live up to commitments made through the Lomé Charter on maritime security adopted in 2016, says Goldman. “States must avoid working in isolation”, as this will simply lead the pirates to shift their attacks to other waters, he says.
  • The international community also has its part to play. Later this year, Denmark will deploy a frigate in the Gulf of Guinea to contribute to fight against piracy, which Goldman says could “open the door” to more international involvement.

But even if Nigerian waters are effectively patrolled, piracy will simply move into other waters unless efforts are coordinated, says Goldman. “Regional cooperation is pivotal, and international navies could play a supporting role.”

Bottom line

Nigeria can’t fix piracy without support from the whole Gulf of Guinea region.

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