London: Friday, 7 June 2019. Members of the shipping community, Flag States and Agencies from Gulf of Guinea gathered at the Headquarters of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for a day-long symposium on Maritime Security in the Gulf of Guinea. The event, co-sponsored by BIMCO, IMCA, ICS, ITF and OCIMF, featured speakers from regional maritime agencies as well as shipping officials, academics and military staff. The shipping industry, along with seafarer groups, organized the event to highlight the continuing danger to seafarers operating in the Gulf of Guinea. In opening the symposium, Dr. Grahaeme Henderson, Chair of the UK Shipping Defence Advisory Committee and Vice President of Shell Shipping & Maritime, said “Simply put, the high level of piracy and armed robbery attacks in the Gulf of Guinea is not acceptable. Yet it is happening every day and this is not business as usual. We need to take urgent action now.”
Concerns raised by industry were supported by figures from the International Maritime Bureau showing that the number of attacks in the Gulf of Guinea region had doubled in 2018. There has also been a marked increase towards kidnapping for ransom and armed robbery incidents. Piracy expert Professor Bertand Monnet, who has interviewed pirate gangs in the Niger Delta, estimated that there were approximately 10 groups of pirates that were responsible for the majority of attacks in the area, and they were well organized and motivated.
Dr. Dakuku Peterside, the Director General and CEO of the Nigerian Maritime Authority and Safety Agency (NIMASA), in his keynote address to the meeting acknowledged the maritime security risks present in the Gulf of Guinea, but stated that new initiatives underway to improve the joint capacity of Nigerian law enforcement and Navy capabilities could make seafarer kidnappings “history” within a matter of months. He went on to state that he is keen to improve international cooperation, particularly with the shipping industry.
According to Dr. Peterside: “We have no option but to work together, but we cannot have imposed solutions”. He also stated that “NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy will also be hosting a Global Maritime Security Conference in October to seek tailored short and long term solutions to strengthen regional and international collaborations in the Gulf of Guinea.”
The forum also included an interview guided by Mr. Branko Berlan, the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) Representative to the IMO, with a seafarer who had been attacked and kidnapped in a recent incident. While the seafarer is still recovering from the shock of the ordeal and did not want to be identified, he stated the attack appeared to be well organized and led from ashore. “The first indication I had of the attack was a knock on my cabin door and two men holding guns appeared.” He was subsequently held in a camp on shore along with other members of his crew until his release could be secured.
Speakers at the event emphasized the region was starting to build capacity and joint cooperation to fight maritime crime through the Yaoundé Process, which focuses on joint cooperation across the region for reporting and response. The international community is also sponsoring long-term capacity building and partnerships.
However, the shipping industry, seafarer groups and Flag States are keen to identify actions that can have an immediate impact. On this note, attendees were encouraged to hear about recent Spanish Navy action to assist Equatorial Guinea to rescue seafarers from a piracy attack last month, as well as the new US program to embark law enforcement officers on regional vessels. Jakob Larsen, Head of Security for BIMCO pointed out that regional states needed to play their part as well.
“Nigerian piracy mainly affects a small geographical area of around 150 x 150 nautical miles. The problem can be solved easily and quickly, especially if Nigeria partners with international navies. Nigeria holds the key to solving this problem,” Larsen said.
The symposium was held in the lead-up to a series of meetings focused on seafarer safety and security at the IMO. Concerns over increased piracy in the Gulf of Guinea have resulted in several member states submitting proposals that could help address the crisis. According to Russell Pegg, Security Adviser at the Oil Companies International Marine Forum, “We are encouraging all stakeholders to take a pro-active role on this issue and are working with member states to support those proposals that could help mitigate the risks to seafarers.”
Guy Platten, Secretary General of the International Chamber of Shipping concluded, “It is unacceptable that seafarers are being exposed to such appalling dangers and we need the authorities to take action now.”