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29/08/2013 | New and old challenges posed by the pirates of the Gulf of Guinea

Martin Edwin Andersen

Maritime pirate advances in the Gulf of Guinea have sparked a growing debate on both the weaknesses of many (but surely not all) government responses in West Africa, as well as on the overwhelming need to quickly reinvent policy and operational prescriptions different in many key respects from those solutions that have worked so well in the fight against Somali marauders.

 

As German Rear Admiral Jurgen Ehle, the head of a European Union military working group for West Africa, told Agence France-Presse earlier today, the Somalia situation and problems faced by West Africa are “totally different.”

The deadliness of the threat was again front and center yesterday when it was announced that six sea pirates died in a gun duel with the Nigerian Navy, a dramatic codicil that came little more than a week after its sailors killed 12 other armed thieves.  The uptick in repression took place as African littoral states sought to “fine-tune” efforts against pirates, while the Nigerian Air Force promised to deploy its war planes against them.

The newest battles and other attention helped to underline the critical importance of West African states signing, in June, a Code of Conduct concerning the prevention of piracy, armed robbery against ships, and illicit maritime activity. Just five days ago, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reiterated the call on Central African leaders combat those threats, by taking advantage of the “unique opportunity to find concerted and innovative solutions to [these and other] problems that threaten peace and security in the Central African sub-region.”

Yet the recent good news about pirate suppression out of Nigeria, in particular, was not welcomed uncritically by some on watch in the fight against the burgeoning threat to merchant trade and economic progress. Some critics said privately that the stories were likely part of a coordinated effort by the Lagos government to help in their fight with the U.S. Coast Guard concerning the level of the former’s compliance (or lack thereof) with the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code.

In his most recent Piracy Daily column, Fending Off Pirates: Depending on West African States to Help Won’t Count For Much, Dr. John A.C. Cartner ably enumerated the problem echoed by Rear Admiral Ehle. As Cartner showed, most of the countries on the West African coast shockingly lack those naval, coast guard and/or custom institutions and practices to deal with the threats ahead, as well as the financial resources to effectively do so.

Although West African piracy occurs in a region in which vessels carry almost 30 percent of U.S. oil imports, and where recent discoveries of offshore oil promise even greater international commercial presence, the great majority of piracy takes place in territorial waters, necessarily largely off-limits to foreign naval vessels.

(The problem is not peculiar only to the African continent, now under often-deadly siege by clandestine filched-oil marketeers; the sovereignty of nations weighs heavily around the world in official diplomatic, and thereby also practical/operational, considerations. As an InsideCostaRica.com article noted today, even though officials on the USS Rentz merely sought to hand over three prisoners — two Costa Ricans and one Nicaraguan — to Costa Rican authorities, together with nearly a ton of cocaine worth $78 million seized from their ship, a Costa Rican legislature vote was needed to allow the guided-missile frigate to dock in national waters.)

At the same time, while the possible presence of international navies—so key to calming the seas around East Africa—offers only circumspect opportunities in West Africa, international organized crime elements of the piracy trade in and around Nigeria are significantly greater.

Failed states like Somalia, in this sense, arguably provide less institutional protection to evil doers through corruption and social conflict than do West Africa’s better-organized and often barely-disguised official partnerships with seaborne criminals. (See, for example, the article in this week’s Financial Times, “Theft and disruptions knock Nigeria oil output to a four-year low,” in which it is noted that the theft of oil has grown into a vast and lucrative enterprise involving well-connected Nigerian officials and security personnel.)

State-owned Offshore Patrol Vessels, where they exist in waters that nearly rival in size the expanse of the Gulf of Mexico, are only as useful as those who guide their use, an iffy proposition due to widespread corruption and other official failures of accountability.

At the same time, private maritime security companies (PMSCs) that engage contracted armed security personnel (PCASP) face problems both similar and quite distinct of those found in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, where as senior U.S. officials have noted, they have played an exceedingly positive role.

The lessons learned off the coast of Somalia include, to some extent at least, how sovereign nations can avoid clashes over thorny issues such as Rules for the Use of Force), the extent to which operational best practices can result in real savings for owners, and which are the essential seafarer and security operator training programs necessary to assure that PCASP teams are truly part of the solution.

Cultural education and critical understanding about the customs and courtesies for those aboard shipping vessels remains key, and relations with local port authorities are arguably even more important—if that was somehow possible—than it is to the east.

PMSCs’ supporting role in West Africa will surely highlight skills that in some regards were lesser considerations when facing Somali pirates:  the protection of waterways and port facilities; the specific needs of ships, oil rigs and other maritime systems, and spot-on contingency plans for improving readiness and responses.

Risk analysis remains key, but port and pipeline security appear noticeably in greater need, particularly as in many countries in the region, arson, sabotage and vandalism are already grave problems, particularly within the context of simmering ethnic and religious tensions.

Unlike Somalia, shore-side access by criminal elements figures among the top threats faced by local and international maritime authorities alike, while corruption among those local officials working hand-in-glove with transnational organized crime appears many magnitudes greater than that across the continent in the east.

In all of this, the good news is that those close to the evolving story say that some West African leaders are quietly—and to the extent that they can, effectively—putting their houses in order to better face the coming storms.

Piracy Daily looks forward to bringing that good news to the fore in the weeks and months ahead (as well as providing necessary reporting on the often more dramatic bad apples in the news cart), since supporting those at their stations on the front lines can, without doubt, help consecrate a better tomorrow.

 ________________________________________________________________________________________________

Martin Edwin Andersen 2013, all rights reserved; “New and old challenges posed by the pirates of the Gulf of Guinea” may be copied and distributed with attribution to Martin Edwin Andersen and Piracy Daily. The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author.

Piracy Daily (Estados Unidos)

 


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