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.
On 13 February, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported that pirates had shot dead the captain and the chief engineer on a cargo ship off the coast of Nigeria.
A notice on the IMB website said: “Armed pirates chased and fired upon a drifting bulk carrier. Vessel raised alarm and headed towards Lagos. All crew except the bridge team took shelter in the citadel. Due to the continuous firing, the captain and the chief engineer were shot”.
The website notice said this incident, which occurred about 110 nautical miles (126 miles) south of Lagos, is the latest in a string of attacks on vessels off the Nigerian coast.
On 9 February, pirates hijacked a tanker about 80 nautical miles (92 miles) from Cotonou, capital of Nigeria’s westward neighbour, the Republic of Benin, the bureau said. Again on Saturday, 11 February, a cargo ship about 70 nautical miles (80 miles) from Lagos, was shot at by pirates on two boats, who chased it for 25 minutes before giving up.
Last year, the IMO reported a 28 percent increase in pirate attacks on vessels off the West African coast, compared to a year earlier. It said 64 attacks were reported in 2011, up from 46 in 2010.
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 20 June, gunmen suspected to be pirates shot dead two patrol policemen along a waterway used by vessels servicing oil and gas companies off Bayelsa State.
According to the Public Relations Officer of the Police in Bayelsa State, Mr Eguavoen Emokpae, the suspected sea pirates laid ambush for the marine policemen in the waterways of Swali in Yenagoa, and killed two of them.
While an amnesty programme introduced by the Federal Government in 2009 had virtually ended the armed insurgency waged by militant groups in the region, there are continuing concerns over incidents of criminal violence in the maritime environment.
For the first quarter of this year, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) recorded five incidents of piracy and armed robbery in Nigerian waters. Although IMB said three of these occurred against vessels in the Lagos area, it also noted that “information from the Norwegian-based Bergen Risks Solutions suggests that a further six unconfirmed incidents took place in the Niger Delta”.