On 28 February, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported that armed pirates opened fire on a cargo ship off the Nigerian coast, kidnapped the captain and chief engineer, and robbed the crew before fleeing. The attack also left one of the 14 crew members missing and another injured.
Noel Choong, head of the IMB’s piracy reporting centre in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, said about eight gunmen attacked the Dutch-owned, Curacao-flagged refrigerated cargo ship near the coast. He said he had received no word yet on any ransom demands.
The IMB said this incident is a continuation of serial piracy attacks in the Gulf of Guinea. In September 2011, the group had warned that the seas off the Republic of Benin, Nigeria’s neighbour to the west, were becoming a new piracy “hotspot”, partly due to the deficiencies of maritime security arrangements in the region.
Choong said: “The attacks off the Nigerian coast are very violent and they are increasing, So far we have seen seven attacks off Nigeria this year and one off Benin. So that makes eight since the beginning of the year and we believe many more attacks may have gone unreported”.
However, in one of the recent incidents in which a tanker was hijacked, the IMB said Nigerian security vessels intercepted the ship and rescued its crew.
Speaking to newsmen in Abuja, the French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppe, who was in Nigeria on a two-day visit, said the partnership would be in the areas of intelligence gathering, information sharing and training operations. He condoled with Nigeria over the recent attacks in Damaturu, Yobe State, and Maiduguri, Borno State.
Mr Juppe, who spoke through an interpreter, also said his country was interested in promoting peace and stability in the West Africa sub-region, and particularly stressed the need to curb piracy on the Gulf of Guinea.
On economic relations, he noted that “Nigeria is France’s first trade partner in sub-Saharan Africa’’ and that trade between the two countries currently stands at about 4.5 billion Euro annually. He emphasised the need for both countries to deepen economic relations by expanding the frontiers of trade.
His Nigerian counterpart, Mr Olugbenga Ashiru said the French foreign minister’s visit was very much in consonance with Nigeria’s new foreign policy direction which lays great emphasis on attracting investment. He called on French investors to key into the nation’s transformation agenda and invest in non-oil sectors, such as agriculture, mining and manufacturing. He said: “Nigeria is safe for investors to come for business’’.
Ashiru said other issues discussed included energy partnership, international cooperation, consular and immigration matters as well as judicial and mutual legal assistance. Both nations also reiterated support for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU) and the African Union Mission in Somalia.
On 11 August, President Goodluck Jonathan received his counterpart from neighbouring Republic of Benin, President Boni Yayi, and discussed proposals towards fighting growing piracy in the waters of their two countries. The meeting follows the recent alert issued by the Benin president, that pirates were threatening the security of his country’s waters and operations at its port.
Before leaving his country’s capital, Cotonou, for the Abuja meeting, Yayi had indicated that the meeting would be part of preparations for a larger summit of Gulf of Guinea countries to deal with the menace of piracy along the West African coast. He had said: “I am going to Nigeria to sort out this piracy issue. I have contacted the United Nations Secretary-General for the holding of a large summit of the countries of the Gulf, at the end of which a formal request will be sent to the Security Council”.
At the end of the meeting between the two leaders in Abuja, a statement from Jonathan’s office said: “Boni Yayi had informed.…Jonathan that pirates and bandits were threatening the security of ports in that country and the Gulf of Guinea coastline”. The statement also said that Yayi had, during the meeting, “called for concerted action, led by Nigeria, to check this menace”.
In his reply, Jonathan said Nigeria would cooperate with neighbouring countries to fight cross-border security challenges, including banditry, terrorism and piracy.
The statement quoted the Nigerian president as saying that: “Criminals don’t respect political boundaries in their nefarious activities, so we will cooperate with one another to find lasting solutions to the problems they pose”. He also assured Yayi that, in due course, relevant Nigerian officials will be in contact with their Benin counterparts, to find appropriate ways to deal with the piracy challenge.
The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reports that Benin and Nigeria recorded 18 pirate attacks in the first half of 2011. About 15 of these occurred off the waters of Republic of Benin, where there had been no incidents in 2010. Most of the recent attacks were thwarted by the Benin navy, but they are already taking a toll on port activities and revenue earnings in Cotonou. And there are fears that the situation could grow worse.
On 28 April, a Nigerian naval officer, Commodore Adejimi Osinowo, was honoured with an award from the President of the United States, Barrack Obama.
The award of the Meritorious Service Medal to Osinowo is in recognition of his distinguished service as deputy commander of the Africa Partnership Station (APS) West, a multi-national maritime security programme initiated by the US Navy, between November 2009 and May 2010.
The US Ambassador to Nigeria, H. E. Terence P. McCulley who presented the award to Osinowo in Abuja on President Obama’s behalf, said the honour was in recognition of the Nigerian officer’s “outstanding meritorious service” while acting as deputy commander of the APS. A statement by the US Secretary of the Navy, Edwin Mabus, also noted that Osinowo gave outstanding leadership to a staff of 50 officers from 17 countries, during the APS deployment.
Nigeria’s Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral OS Ibrahim, said the partnership between the contributing countries in APS has improved maritime safety, particularly in the Gulf of Guinea, and that the Nigerian Navy has benefitted a lot from the arrangement.
Responding, Commodore Osinowo expressed appreciation to the U.S. for the award and thanked the Chief of Naval Staff for the opportunity given to him to serve during the period.
The origin of APS dates back to November 2006, when 11 Gulf of Guinea nations — supported by the U.S. State Department and military — signed an agreement to fight terrorism and criminal activity in the region. That agreement laid the foundation for the formal APS. The programme seeks to help participating African nations learn skills and methods needed to combat regional problems such as drug smuggling, piracy, illegal fishing, human trafficking, stealing fuel from storages and illegal migration.
APS initially focused on training and equipping West African navies. But the mission has since expanded to include navies on the eastern coast of the continent. In 2009, the program drew in the eastern coast nations of Kenya, Mozambique and Tanzania, as well as the islands of Madagascar, Mauritius and Reunion. Its expectation is that member nations will act more as a regional coalition in dealing with their common maritime security challenges.