18 November 2019

Piracy in Guinea Gulf- An African threat for the European transport workers

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

At the beginning of November 2019, pirates in the Guinea Gulf have kidnapped 13 crewmembers of two European-flagged ships. In the meantime, the operational measures needed to fight this phenomenon are limping along. There are few training exercises of the security forces of the countries whose territorial waters are used by the pirates in the area. Until the dislocation of a trustable military maritime force to deter pirates’ actions, along with eliminating the causes of piracy, there are some special companies which are offering commercial ships’ owners new technologies to protect the crew and the ships against pirates’ attacks.

Image source: Mediafax

Numbers speak for itself…

In the midst of August, the Defence and Security Monitor was publishing an article on the evolution of Guinea Gulf’s piracy for the first six months of 2019. Since that moment, nothing actually changed. On October 14th, the International Maritime Bureau has published the report of piracy and other incidents for the third quarter of 2019.

The report says that, comparing to the first nine months of 2018, the number of piracy incidents and armed robbery executed against commercial ships, in the same period of 2019, has decreased. If in the first three quarters of 2018, the number of piracy actions and armed robbery was 156, in the same period of this year, there were registered 119 incidents. Overall, the 2019 incidents include 95 vessels boarded, 10 vessels fired upon. Also, the report shows that the crew informed about 10 attempted attacks and four vessels hijacked. The number of kidnaped sailors has decreased from 112, in the first nine months of 2018, to 49 in the same period of this year.

Even if we are seeing a general positive tendency, the incidents involving firearms or other offensive guns is the same. There were 24 incidents this year related to knife threats and 35 with firearms, meanwhile in the same period of last year the number of incidents was 25, respectively 37. These statistics are confirming the IMB’s concern in terms of commercial ships’ security and their crew.

In the beginning of November, two Norwegian and Greek-flagged ships were attacked by pirates, and some of the crew members were taken hostage.

According to the report mentioned above, the Guinea Gulf is still an area wherein piracy and the armed robbery level is high. Pirates’ actions represent 86% of the crew members who were taken hostage globally, and 82% of those who have been kidnapped. This reality is also confirmed by the ICC IMB Director, Pottengal Mukudan, who stated that “Although incidents are down, the Gulf of Guinea continues to be a concern for piracy and armed robbery-related activities with kidnappings of crew members increasing in both scale and frequency”. Also, he stated that “shipmasters and owners must continue to report all actual, attempted, and suspected incidents to ensure that an accurate picture of these attacks emerge and action is taken against these criminals before the incidents further escalate.”

And the recent incidents are increasing European ship-owners’ discontentment

For the past months, the maritime transport companies have announced that there were many other similar incidents in this area, among them also the kidnap of eight crew members of a German ship, in Cameroon, in August, as well as of other ten Turkish sailors in Nigeria’s coasts, in July.

Recently (November 2nd), the Norwegian-flagged “Bonita” ship was attacked in the Benin state’s coasts, and nine of its crew members were kidnapped. The other members of the crew, who managed to save themselves, have announced the Benin authorities and the owner of the ship. Afterwards, the ship docked in Cotonou port.

Only two days after this (Monday, November 4th), pirates have attacked the Greek tanker “Elka Aristotel”, in the Lomé city-port’s coast, with capital to Tago, and have kidnapped four sailors. A Greek, two Pilipino and a Georgian sailor were taken hostage after the pirates got on board only 18 kilometers away from the port. One of the security agents who were on board got shot.

Given these circumstances, immediately after these two incidents from November, the European ships owners have expressed their concern on the enlargement tendencies of Guinea Gulf’s piracy, asking the policy makers to come up with concrete actions to protect the commercial ships which are going on that region. The European Community Shipowners Association members have presented a series of possible measures that could improve the current situation. Among them there is a discussion between EU and the governments of Guinea Gulf states to find effective solutions, on land, to eliminate the causes of this phenomenon. Also, the ECSA members have proposed a strong military presence of the EU member states outside the riverside states’ territorial waters, as well as the support of the judicial and force structures of the coast states by consolidating the judicial systems and the coast guards through equipment and training. The warning signal launched by the ECSA members is not but an “echo” of the concerns expressed at the beginning of this year, within the symposium on the Guinea Gulf maritime security, organized at the International Maritime Organization from London.

Also, the International Transport Workers Federation has asked the urgent global and regional cooperation to fight piracy in West Africa.

EU has expressed its interest to provide a joint maritime patrol force in the Guinea Gulf. But that was in August, during a ministerial EU reunion, when the High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini, was stating: “we mentioned the Gulf of Guinea as a first test we could have of this mechanism that would be very light. […] it would be in addition to the traditional military operations that the European Union has and can continue to have in the future.”

Until the dislocation of a military maritime force…

The piracy threat asks the ship-owners to prepare their commercial ships and the crew for various situations that could emerge during a transport.

“Aquashield Oil & Marine Services Limited” (AQS) is a wholly-owned Nigerian Company in the business of Maritime Security and Support Services. Its fleet comprises of Fast Intervention Security Vessels (FISVs), Platform Supply Vessels (PSVs) with DP1&2 capabilities, Anchor Handling Tug Supply Vessels (AHTSVs), Offshore Construction Vessels and Barges and Dredgers. AQS is one of the few private maritime security services companies that have a collaborative relationship with the Nigerian Navy for the use of armed naval personnel.

Besides the already existent security systems on board (cameras, barbered wire, security camera able to communicate with the outside) which are going on areas affected by piracy, the AQS comes with a new non-lethal system. The system is based on the immobilization of possible pirates’ ships. The system is already mounted on all AQS fleet ships and it represents a launch targeting the attacker ship, supported by air gun, a plastic barrel. Once launched, the barrel frees a clew, a fillet which covers the targeted ship. Both the clew and the fillet are floating until they “get” the propeller of the target ship, this way stopping the engine.

To sum up

In July 2019, Beijing hosted the first China-Africa Peace and China-Africa forum, whereat there were present 100 representatives from 50 African states, wherefrom 15 ministers of defence/ general staff chiefs.

The first Russia-Africa summit was held between 23-24th of October, in Sochi, Russia, marking the climax of Russia’s return to Africa, having more than 50 African leaders and 3.000 representatives invited at the event. The summit is another sign of Russia’s intense efforts to strengthen its relations with Africa, given that the region became a battlefield for influence between EU, US and China.

EU decided, recently, to review its approach on the commercial agreements with Africa. The slow process of implementing the six economic partnership agreements with African regional blocs has been frustrating the European Commission. The EU-Africa commerce is still very low. Around 8% of the EU exports and 7% of EU imports went and came from Africa, in 2016. Germany, the biggest European economy, has organized its own summit, GABS, where local and African government leaders get reunited each two years to discuss and promote their economic relations.

However, none of the big powers (US, China, EU) are really involved in fighting piracy in the Guinea Gulf, although the loses for the commercial maritime companies are really big.

Therefore, although piracy’s level has decreased, globally, it continues to remains a threat on Benin’s coasts and it could also lead to Somalia’s piracy “return”.

Until the dislocation of a trustable military force in the area, to truly protect themselves against piracy’s threat, ships operators should use the ultimate technology- regardless if it is about protection for tankers, cargos or cruise ships. With the proper security measures, the maritime companies are no longer protecting their crew members and their cargo, but enjoying also the full trust of their clients, which can make sure they are not taking any risk when it comes to a dislocation around the African coasts.

Translated by Andreea Soare