By Sonny Atumah

* Mor Prosperity; one of the two newly acquired vessels by Morlap Shipping Company.

The story of piracy and pirates isan age long one. Piracy has occurred throughout history and has been well documented. Piracy that imposes both human costs and economic costs on maritime shipping is a known threat to global trade. From the ancient times, account of Mediterranean piracy was closely related to maritime commerce.

The Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Romans as well as the Carthaginians engaged in piracy. In the Middle Ages, Vikings from the north and Moors from the south engaged in piracy. After the Renaissance in Europe, naval vessels were routinely laid up and their crews disbanded. The crews from these ships were often drafted into the service of pirates.

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The story fiction, Treasure Island, a classic novel written in 1881 by Robert Louis Stevenson was indeed about the days a band of evil and heartless pirates. It was of adventure, mystery, treachery, intrigues, hidden and stolen treasure, and rip-roaring tale of mutiny, terror, capture and killings in the sailing ship, Hispaniola.

Pirate hot spots where trouble is likely to break out can be identified, and to a large extent even predicted. But where acts of piracy are committed by criminal organizations in cooperation with some state actors it becomes difficult to eradicate. These pirates sometimes operated under the protection of state officials in small ports, who received a share of the illicit profits. Security analysts say in the last decades of the 20th century, nautical piracy became prevalent in the seas of East and Southeast Asia and eastern Africa. Piracy has become the biggest military or terrorist threat in the 21st century as broadcast that they have guards on board have not deterred daredevils. Pirate attacks from 2002 through 2006 were concentrated in the Strait of Melaka between Singapore and Indonesia, and the South China sea. Between 2008 and 2009, there was an upsurge of attacks in waters off the coast of Somalia. It became more of terrorist attacks as the Al Shabaab group hijacked ships belonging to several countries leading to the intervention of warships of several navies.

Oil Piracy is a cog in the petro-maritime trade and now in fashion along shipping routes. Major shipping routes for crude are the Strait of Hormuz, Strait of Melaka, the Suez Canal in Egypt and the Bab-el-Mandeb that links the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden. About 60 million barrels of petroleum move on the seas daily across the globe, according to the US Energy Information Administration, EIA. About one third of this volume passes through the Hormuz route. The Persian Gulf and the control of the Strait of Hormuz has been a key point in global shipment of petroleum. The Strait of Hormuz is the world’s single most important oil passageway, forming a chokepoint between the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

The vulnerability of oil tankers in chokepoints makes piracy and terrorist attacks on this route to be attractive and quite lucrative too. Sometime state sponsored attacks occur here. The Strait of Hormuz takes crude from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Kuwait and Iraq. The 39km strait is the only route to the open ocean for over one-sixth of global oil production and one-third of the world’s liquefied natural gas (LNG).

It appears that the baton of criminality has been passed to the Gulf of Guinea. Nigeria’s offshore water is no more a safe haven for ships including tankers and crews. Security analysts believed that pirates in the Gulf of Guinea are using mother ship vessels to aid their operations deep offshore. The recent global maritime security conference from 7-9 October, 2019 in Abuja, was to develop tailored solutions as well as coordinate efforts at strengthening regional and international collaborations to extinguish maritime threats in the region.

The Conference theme: Managing and securing our waters, was apt considering that the International Maritime Bureau, IMB, reported that the Gulf of Guinea waters are now responsible for over 80 percent of kidnappings in the shipping routes of the world. Solutions may have been proffered but whether there are immediate follow ups is another matter.

About a month ago a Hong Kong-flagged crude oil tanker, Nave Constellation that departed Bonny Offshore Terminal in fully laden condition was boarded by armed men late night of December 3rd. The criminal gang took 19 of the crewmen hostage.

According to a Reuters report, the tanker was attacked 77 nautical miles (about 142 kilometres) off Bonny Island, an area where acts of piracy have been increasing, directly off the southern coast of Nigeria. On December 15, a Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker, MT Duke with 20 seafarers was attacked and boarded by six pirates while sailing from Luanda, Angola to Lome, Togo with a cargo of fuel oil. Seven crew members of the anchor handling vessel, Pacific Warden were reportedly abducted off Equatorial Guinea on November 19, 2019, and released after 31 days.

The Gulf of Guinea still remains high risk with the cost of piracy in our waters still very high. Who is actually responsible for policy harmonization and effective implementation through regional integration and cooperation of maritime security? The Abuja conference objectives were well captured and espoused. One hopes it has not ended as the usual talk shows without concrete solutions. The Blue Economy in the Gulf of Guinea must be rescued.

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