IMB urges vessels to be extra vigilant when transiting in West Africa

UN has recenlty issued a report on the Maritime Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. Piracy in the region has become a growing concern, therefore the ICC International Mariritme Bureau is asking ships to be extra vigilant when transiting in West Africa

Who is responsible for the attacks?

Where information on the attackers is available, almost all of the piracy attacks along the Bight of Benin have been linked to Nigerian pirates. In the Benin attacks, many of the participants were from along the Nigeria- Benin border. Victims in the Benin attacks report that both English and French have been spoken by the pirates. For example, William Locky, a Nigerian arrested in Cotonou on suspicion of piracy, speaks basic French and has parents who come from the border area. On August 4, 2012 five men were arrested in Nigeria and several others in Benin in connenction with a pirate attack. Two of these men were brothers - one arrested in Benin and one arrested in Nigeria.

Fuel thieves must have links to the cross-border black market and so often have links to the Niger Delta. At least one Beninois was recently arrested in Nigeria in connection with bunkering where the destination of the cargo was Benin. The players in the oil bunkering industry are diverse, including corrupt officials, the armed groups they sponsor, corrupt elements of the military, corrupt oil industry officials, militantns and professional thieves.

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Image Credit: UN Report

How big is the offence?

Estimating the value of piracy is challenging. The firstproblem is to estimate the extent of under-reporting. Thereare many reasons an attacked vessel may opt not to report,including the fact that the cargo they were carrying was itself illicit. The Nigerian navy has estimated that there havebeen ten to 15 attacks every month in recent years, and thatthe monthly tally can rise as high as 50.128 In contrast, theInternational Maritime Organization (IMO) has recordedabout 50 successful attacks annually for the entire region inrecent years. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB),however, concedes that the real number of pirate attacks isat least twice as high as the official figure.129 Allowing for100 successful attacks per year would loosely fit both theIMO's and the Navy's estimates, particularly if the overallrate has declined slightly with the militant demobilization.

As noted above, about three-quarters of t hese attacks are simple robberies, netting very little for the pirates. According to past research, the amounts taken have been valued at US$10,000 to US$15,000 per attack. It is unlikely that therobbers realized all this value, but if they did, they wouldcollectively gain as much as US$1.3 million annually inrecent years.

Much greater profit could be derived from theft of refinedpetroleum products. For a number of reasons, the preciseamount of the loss is rarely reported, but those reports thathave been made suggest that successful attacks result in theloss of thousands of tons of fuel, equivalent to hundreds ofthousands of gallons. Refined products destined for thelocal market have to compete with subsidized fuel, pushingdown the price considerably, but this could still represent avery profitable criminal activity. According to Lloyd's, lossesof oil have ranged from US$2 million to US$6 million forthese attacks. Value realized for the thieves would likelybe around half this amount, or as much as US$30 millionfor the year.

Much of the piracy that affects West Africa is a product ofthe disorder that surrounds the regional oil industry. A largeshare of the recent piracy attacks targeted vessels carryingpetroleum products. These vessels are attacked becausethere is a booming black market for fuel in West Africa.Without this ready market, there would be little point inattacking these vessels. There are indications that oil mayalso be smuggled outside the region. More information may be found at the UN Report - Maritime Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea