A pirate attack on the tanker Gascogne in Ivory Coast waters on Feb. 2 clearly signalled that gangs from the Niger Delta are now able to operate pretty well everywhere in the Gulf of Guinea. They are benefiting from the blind eye, if not complicity, of the Nigerian government which hasn’t managed to break them up and isn’t using its fleet to protect even its own territorial waters.
The piracy circuit –In the case of Gascogne, after “seizing” the small amount of crude it was carrying in its tanks- some 200 tons – at Forcados, the pirates left the ship off the coast. It then put in at Lome where wounded seamen were treated. On every occasion, the Togolese and Benin navies follow the hijacked boats and send information along to the Nigerian authorities who promise to send a vessel to intercept the pirates. But the vessel never turns up. Worse, shipowners consider that calling the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Lagos for help is the best way to attract pirates. For the moment, only Ghana has been spared piracy because it happens to have a well-equipped navy. One of its SURMAR ships followed the Gascogne, with the assistance of Ghana’s air force.In addition to the loss of cargos, the increase in piracy in West Africa is forcing shipping companies to pay exorbitant insurance premiums which considerably increases the cost of crude in Nigeria as well as in neighbouring countries.
Naval forces powerless –Modest in scope, these initiatives run into a far bigger problem, namely the inadequate equipment of navies in the sub-region. And if Togo and Benin have the means to follow pirates and supply information they haven’t any vessels that can actually intervene. Nigeria indeed acquired three 24-meter patrol boats from the French shipyard Ocea last year but the regional military authorities fear the vessels, which went into service last week, will once again remain in port when tankers are hijacked.
Piracy a new hobby for the Delta Boys –The Nigerian government could view money from piracy as a sort of safety valve for youths in the Delta. If so, however, that’s a highly dangerous gamble with regards the future of Nigeria’s oil industry.