News / Africa

Shippers Raise Alarm Over Oil Piracy in Gulf of Guinea

Clandestine oil refineries such as this one shown near Bayelsa in a May 18, 2013 image, proliferate in Nigeria, the center of a wave of criminal activity that has cost Nigeria $12 billion in lost revenues and spread to high seas piracy of oil tankers thro
Clandestine oil refineries such as this one shown near Bayelsa in a May 18, 2013 image, proliferate in Nigeria, the center of a wave of criminal activity that has cost Nigeria $12 billion in lost revenues and spread to high seas piracy of oil tankers thro
David Arnold
The vast Gulf of Guinea which is nearly as big as the Gulf of Mexico is now one of the most dangerous bodies of water in the world, home to pirates that attack oil tankers and other cargo vessels at will, raising fears that shipping lanes that have existed for 500 years could be permanently disrupted.  
 
West African piracy centered on the Niger Delta has in recent years expanded from the coasts of Nigeria to the shorelines of many of the 11 West African countries that border the Gulf where pirates seize large oil tankers, siphon the product into smaller vessels, refine it in clandestine facilities and quickly sell it, fueling a regional oil black market. 
 
Oil-consuming nations are concerned because more than 30 percent of U.S. oil and 40 percent of Europe’s oil passes through the Gulf and is vulnerable to West African piracy.
 
The largest foreign investor in Nigeria’s booming oil industry, Royal Dutch Shell, says that oil pipeline theft on land, and piracy at sea means about 100,000 barrels of oil are stolen every day in that country, costing the Nigerian government an estimated $12 billion a year.
 
Nigerian pirates in the Gulf of Guinea
 
“The Gulf of Guinea’s problem is not a dramatic rise in the number of attacks,” said Delex Systems Inc. analyst James Bridger for the U.S. Naval Institute in Annapolis, Maryland. It is “the expansion of a criminal enterprise once restricted to Nigerian waters.” The wave of piracy has spread to Benin, Togo and Cote d’Ivoire. Within the past 30 months, 93 tankers have been attacked, and 30 were successfully hijacked. In their latest raid, pirates seized a Turkish tanker off the coast of Gabon.
 
x
The Niger Delta is “the epicenter” of Gulf piracy, according to a report by Dryad Maritime Services, a maritime security intelligence firm in Portsmouth, UK. “Kidnapping is an endemic industry embedded within Nigerian criminal culture with the threat permeating both the land and sea domains. Foreign nationals remain a primary target for this criminal enterprise, due to the high ransom payments that can be achieved,” said the report.

“West Africa has reached a tipping point, like East Africa and South East Asia before it,” according to Bridger in Annapolis.
 
Not much protection for tankers
 
Recent anti-piracy efforts so successful off Somalia’s coast have had only limited success in the Gulf of Guinea because shipping companies are prohibited from hiring foreign armed security and foreign naval powers cannot pursue pirates in West African territorial waters where most attacks take place.  
 
While most countries along the Gulf of Guinea have been unable to cope with the pirates there has been one exception; Benin. 
 
“Beninois and Nigerian navies had a successful operation co-operation called Operation Prosperity which brought down the number of piracy cases drastically,” said Adjoa Anyimuda, author of a Chatham House report on West Africa’s maritime piracy. Along their short coastline Benin recorded 20 successful and attempted attacks in 2011. In 2012 there were only two.
 
But the number of piracy attempts are underestimated, Anyimuda said. Many attacks go unreported because shippers think local authorities are not capable of doing anything about the piracy or they believe “some elements within local authorities may be culpable.”
 
Despite regional prohibitions, some shippers still try to arm their vessels. Nine months ago, 15 Russian sailors aboard the MV Myre Seadiver were arrested by Nigerian authorities for possession of weapons and live ammunition.
 
‘It’s not a naval problem …’
 
The International Crisis Group argues that the solution to West Africa’s piracy is not more navies but a comprehensive regional reform of police enforcement and court systems currently incapable of handling the piracy crime wave, said Mark Schneider, director of ICG operations in Washington, D.C.
 
“Corruption has so weakened those institutions to begin with,” said Schneider, “that there is a major rescue effort that must be taken in order for them to become a real ally to the business community and the shipping community.”
 
“Nigerian criminal syndicates, backed by high-level political and economic patrons, are exploiting this situation by targeting specific tankers for hi-jacking,” said Bridger, the Delex Systems analyst. Dryad suggests the pirates’ efficiency may be linked to professional outside supervision from organized crime syndicates in Eastern Europe or Asia. But Schneider said that so far the pirated crude is only being traded on the West African oil black market.
 
Without more international attention, the ICG reports, “Piracy and other organized crime will continue to plague the Gulf of Guinea, raise energy prices in the U.S. and other markets and lead to further de-stabilization in an already fragile part of the world.”

You May Like

Bleak China Economic Outlook Rattles Markets

Several key European stock indexes were down nearly three percent, while US market indexes were off around two percent in early trading More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs