West Africa Threatens To Overtake Somalia In Piracy Stakes

The United Nations (UN) Security Council is calling for greater co-operation between West African states to counter a recent dramatic increase in piracy activity.

A spate of hijacks off the coast of Benin sees the region threatening to overtake Somalia as the world piracy hotspot.

Most recently, the 12,200-dwt products tanker Emocean (built 2007) was taken 50 miles from Cotonou as it was undertaking a ship-to-ship (STS) transfer in an attack that mirrors a number of previous incidents over the summer. Ships are usually held for a few days before they are robbed and handed back.

Such is the recent growth in piracy off West Africa that the London Insurance Market’s Joint War Committee recently added the region to its list of high-risk areas.

Hardeep Singh Puri, India’s permanent representative to the UN and former president of the UN Security Council, says he recognises the efforts to counter piracy so far. But he added: “In this context, members of the council underline the need for regional co-ordination and leadership in developing a comprehensive strategy to address this threat.”

His comments came shortly after Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan has pledged co-operation with Benin to tackle piracy in West Africa and held talks with Benin president Boni Yayi on the issue.

The UN initiative would like to see co-operation increase and in a statement it urged the international community, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) to exchange information and make navigation safe along the Gulf of Guinea. It also wants to see the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) become involved.

On the table for discussion is a planned summit by the Gulf of Guinea heads of states to discuss the regional response. An increase in joint patrols in the danger hotspots by Benin and Nigeria has also been proposed.

Following the rise in West African piracy, security analysts say they fear the region’s pirates might start to mimic Somali tactics and start holding out for ransoms rather than simply robbing ships.

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