Somalia – Piracy Revival

After a decline in activities, there has been a resurgence of piracy in the Gulf of Aden. 

After an extended period of inactivity, pirates operating from the Somali coast have recently taken a number of ships; on March 13th a small oil tanker was hijacked and on March 24th pirates attacked a fishing boat, the first such attacks since 2012.

“We understand that pirates hijacked the fishing vessel to hijack a big ship off the ocean…they dropped its 10 Yemeni crew and a Somali guard inland and disappeared with the boat together with the food, cook, captain and engineer,” Head of Maritime Police Forces in Puntland, Abdirahman Mohamud said.

The pirates were reportedly from the village of Marrayo. Their tactic was reportedly to use the smaller ship as a mothership or launchpad for other more large scale attacks.

Further, on April 3rd Somali pirates seized a small boat and its 11 Indian crew members, and taken the vessel along the central coast, a state official said. The boat is currently in an area which was the centre of piracy in 2011, the coast near Elhur.

The attack happened as the vessel passed through the channel between Yemen’s Socotra Island and the Somali coast, reported the Independent

NATO troops on suspected Somali pirate ship – CC 2012

On piracy expert said, “we’re starting to see copycat attacks and there is a growing realisation that the shipping industry is taking huge risks.” British maritime safety firm Dryad Maritime has warned clients to stay 100 nautical miles away from the Socotra gap due to piracy concerns.

In 2011, Somalia pirates launched 237 attacks off the coast of Somalia in the Gulf of Aden, and held many hundreds of hostages, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).

However, the frequency of attacks eventually fell as shipping firms increased security, such as blocking easy entrance points, installing secure panic rooms with communication equipment, and hiring private and military security escorts, reported the Independent.

Piracy in the region was once a serious concern for the global shipping industry. However since the decline, attention has turned to the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa. Recent events, however, suggest that the situation in the Gulf of Aden is deteriorating.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

AFRICAN UNION: Maritime Security Deal
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol. 53, Issue. 10, Pp. 21170A–21170C

Mauritius – Somalia: Piracy Sentences
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol. 53, Issue. 8, Pp. 21097A

GULF OF GUINEA: Step Forward in Tackling Piracy
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol. 52, Issue. 3, Pp. 20512A–20512B

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Africa – Piracy


Frequency of attacks drops in East Africa but kidnappings rise in the Gulf of Guinea – AU says seaport security crucial.

On July 26th the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), part of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) said that piracy and armed robbery off the coast of Somalia has fallen to its lowest levels since 1995, with only one incident in the last six months.

However, the IMB stated that it “believes that a single successful hijacking of a merchant vessel, will rekindle the Somali pirates’ passion to resume its piracy efforts.” The organisation added that Somali pirates continue to hold 29 crew members for ransom as of June 30th, reported Somali news service Shabelle.

A Netherlands-based firm, Atlantic Marine and Offshore Group, which was contracted to build six ships for the Somali Coast Guard in July 2013, is close to delivering the vessels and will also train the navy tasked with operating the ships, which is expected to take 5-6 more years. The vessels will be used to combat piracy, illegal fishing, waste dumping, and weapons deliveries to the al-Shabaab group.

Somali ambassador to the European Union (EU), Dr Ali Sa’id Faqi, said the creation of a coastguard represented a historic leap for Somalia and the government had signed an agreement with Netherlands-based Atlantic Marine and Offshore Group to train Somali coastguard personnel, reported Dalsan Radio.

IMB’s global piracy report recorded 98 incidents in the first half of 2016, compared with 134 for the same period in 2015. In 2010 and 2003, the IMB recorded around 445 attacks a year. The IMB has a live piracy incident feed, available here.


NATO Counter-Piracy Troops, Somalia CC – 2012.

Despite a drop in East Africa the IMB report noted there had been a surge of kidnappings off West Africa, with 44 crew members kidnapped in 2016. China on July 28th announced plans to support infrastructural development in the Gulf of Guinea to help in the fight against piracy.

On July 25th the African Union’s (AU) African Day of the Seas and Oceans focused on the theme, ‘Maritime Governance for Sustainable Development’. Seaports are crucial to African economies but are easily accessible to criminals, pirates and drug smugglers.

According to the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) the low standard of living for populations living near to the ports can fuel port insecurity. Reports show that African ports often fail to meet the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) code.

According to ISS the government in many countries seems to lack commitment to protect coasts and did not have maritime strategies in place, or if they did, they were not implemented satisfactorily.

In the Gulf of Guinea, the ISS reported that only two out of the planned maritime coordination centres are operational and while there had been some successes in Operation Prosperity by Benin and Nigeria, inter-state joint patrols are still at an experimental stage. (BBC News 13-17/7; Dalsan Radio 17/7; ISS 26/7; Shabelle 26/7; Xinhua 29/7)

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.53, Issue.3, Pp.21217A

Piracy – Drop in Recorded Cases
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.53, Issue. 2, Pp.21180C

Somalia – Piracy [Free to Access]
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue. 11, Pp.21076B

Subscribe to the Africa Research Bulletin today.

Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea

Piracy off the coast of Somalia has been much in the news.

The kidnappings of Westerners by Al Shabaab militia and Kenya’s invasion of Somalia has added a new dimension.  Less reported is the rise of the practice off the west coast of Africa in the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea.  

So why is the issue of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea particularly troubling?

1. The problem is growing

The coast of Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer, has long been a dangerous place to sail but now the risk has spread. Benin’s coast has seen at least 20 incidents in 2011 compared to none in 2010, raising alarm in the shipping industry.

2. This is where the oil comes from

The Gulf of Guinea produces more than three million barrels of oil per day  (bpd) equivalent to 4% of the global total, ultimately destined for Europe and the US.  Some estimates says that by 2015 America will be getting up to 25% of its oil supplies from here. The area also includes some of the newest players in the oil scene. Ghana, for example, which has huge reserves and only began production in December 2010, is already producing 77,000 bpd.

3. These pirates mean business

The pirates are targeting diesel and oil tankers. They don’t want hostages. They want the fuel or whatever else they can take. The pirates in the Gulf of Guinea are more violent than their counterparts off the coast of Somalia. Hostages are generally released within 72 hours, but are often maltreated and physically abused.

4. The problem’s even worse than it seems

Inadequate information-gathering from the region means that it’s almost impossible to assess the frequency of the attacks and they are seriously under-reported. One security analyst told Reuters that “in Nigeria it is estimated that approximately 60% of pirate attacks go unreported.”

5. Regional Countries Lack Resources

Affected countries are joining forces. The Togolese navy – which managed to foil an attempted hijacking of a Maltese tanker 15km off the Togolese coast in late September – is pooling monitoring resources with Benin and Nigeria.  The regional group, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) decided to expand its maritime security committee from five to 10 members. Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo will now join Cape Verde, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau and Nigeria according to a press release issued by Defence Ministers. These initiatives don’t alter the fact that local coastal defences are weak and the coastline is craggy, offering hiding places for potential attackers.

6. International Efforts

Not much is being done yet on the international stage. The United Nations is worried and is sending an assessment team. A Security Council statement “expressed concern over the increase in piracy, maritime armed robbery and reports of hostage-taking … and its damaging impact on security, trade and economic activities in the sub-region.” Both France and the United States have sent warships to assist navies in Benin, Ghana, Nigeria and Togo to track down the pirates.

Find out more with the following back issues of the Africa Research Bulletin

Gulf of Guinea, Rise of Piracy (Economic, Financial and Technical Series, Volume 48, Issue 9)

ECOWAS Defence Chiefs Meet on Piracy (Political, Social and Cultural Series, Volume  48, Issue 10)