Maritime Piracy in West Africa

A modern challenge for developing countries. Part One

Maritime Piracy in West Africa
Maritime Piracy in West Africa
16 FEB 2016
by

The development of Africa is threatened not only by armed crises, terrorism, recurring health problems issues, the latest of which is the humanitarian disaster caused by the Ebola virus, but also by the increase of problems related to ecology and maritime piracy. Most of these problems are due to the lack of implementation of international treaties in African legal acts, the inability to provide food security in sub regions and the absence of effective integrated environmental strategies and policies. An additional threat to sustainable socio-economic development and the paradigms accompanying its strategies is currently occurring in the Gulf of Guinea.

For many years, Somalia was the epicenter of violent piracy and hijacking ships. With fewer attacks these last years, the attention has shifted to the Gulf of Guinea where more than 40 attacks in the first three quarters in 2013 were recorded in the region. 132 crew were taken hostage, several vessels, offshore supply vessels and tankers were hijacked.

Maritime piracy endangers the economies of the West African sub-region and constitutes an ecological threat. In the Gulf of Guinea, Nigeria is the main source of piracy in the region. It may be obvious that many incidents of piracy were identified there because Nigeria is one of the biggest economies of the continent. From 2 - 7 November 2015 in Lome, Togo organized an extraordinary summit against maritime insecurity. Alongside that event, it was communicated that at least 205 attacks on ships by pirates were recorded from 2005 to May 2015 in the Gulf of Guinea.

Official statistics clearly show that many members of ECOWAS that inhabit coastal areas of the Gulf of Guinea suffer from maritime piracy. These countries are Benin, Ghana, Gabon, Cameroon, Nigeria, Sao Tome and Principe, Togo, and Equatorial Guinea. All of them have access to the Atlantic Ocean. The Gulf of Guinea has large mineral and biological resources such as gas reserves in Nigeria, Ghana (both are ECOWAS members) Gabon and oil for nearly 24 billion Barrels. These stocks represent 5% of the global oil reserves and transform the sub region into one of the world's leading on this indicator. Eight oil-producing states in West Africa produced daily 5 million barrels of oil and could potentially increase that production.

In West Africa, the situation is complicated because of the increase of the activity of sea pirates who seek not only to seize control over all natural resources of the Gulf, but also interfere with the normal operation of trade and maritime transport, itineraries which pass through the sub region. The threat of maritime piracy entails not only an increase in the cost of the safety of people and goods carried, but also the potential to bring the case to an environmental catastrophe if sea pirates capture ships with chemicals, oil or nuclear waste. This of course would constitute a major environmental threat to the whole sub region living being.

It is very important to remember, for instance, that sea turtles live in the waters of the Gulf, and moreover, several rivers fall into the Gulf of Guinea: Cavan (border of Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire), Sassandra, Bandama, Comoé (Côte d'Ivoire), Volta (Ghana), Mono (between Togo and Benin), Niger (Nigeria) and Sanaga (Cameroon).
Pirates attack not only vessels that are passing along the coast, but also vessels in ports. For example, out of 60 pirate attacks on ships in ports, occurred in the ports of Benin, in 2011. Of the 24 recorded acts of maritime piracy in 2011-2012, 23 were related to tankers carrying chemicals and petroleum products. The main problem in the sub region is the impact of these losses on the international insurance rates, the purely economic damages and political image of the sub region.

This situation has led to a sharp increase in the cost of shipping to Benin. According to the UN 40% of government revenue in Benin is provided by its main port - the port of Cotonou. As a result of these actions, many foreign companies have ceased business relations with Benin, to avoid attacks or ransom. These sudden changes in the business are not only a blow to the Beninese authorities, but also weakened Mali and Niger, countries that do not have access to the sea and have always received their goods through the port of Cotonou. During the third quarter of 2011, marine traffic decreased by 70%, a 28% reduction in income of Benin. This leads the international community to unite to fight against this phenomenon that affects not only the Gulf of Guinea, but also other area such as the Gulf of Eden. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982 in its article 100 and 108 were unable to remove completely all the questions. The lack of clear rules allows attackers to escape the condemnation or deserved punishment. Courts often qualify sea robbery and maritime piracy at sea as banditry or armed robbery at sea. In some countries, maritime piracy in the port is often classified as theft.

All this facts point to the many challenges that lay ahead contemporary international law. In the meantime, we can talk about a consensus reached in relation to maritime piracy beyond the territorial sea. Therefore, it is no coincidence that armed attack on ships in the Gulf of Guinea is qualified as a simple armed attack.

Continues with Part Two: http://wsimag.com/economy-and-politics/20067-maritime-piracy-in-west-africa