YAOUNDE, CAMEROON — Three blocs of African countries and the United States have agreed to coordinate efforts to fight piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.
Forty vessels have been attacked by armed gangs in the Gulf of Guinea this year, according to senior officials of the U.S. military's Africa Command. The epicenter of West African piracy is Nigeria, with 12 attacks and multiple kidnappings this year.
Aboko Patrick, mayor of Kombo Abedimo, a Cameroonian locality on the Bakassi peninsula, tells VOA that the government of Cameroon negotiated his release when he and some friends were captured by pirates.
"We were embarrassed with three gun boats armed to the teeth, with about 10 persons per boat," he said. "There were gun firings. Some of us fell into water and we were picked up by pirates and taken to their camp. We were given indiscriminate beatings for close to about six hours. We sustained various injuries ranging from wounds and fractures."
Philip Hey, chief of the air and maritime program of the U.S. Africa Command, says organized piracy is increasing because West African countries do not make maritime safety a priority.
"The criminals are winning. Criminals act with impunity on African waters," Hey said. "They fish illegally, they move illegal drugs, arms, weapons, they attack ships and shippings and that has a very negative impact on trade for Africa and for economic development for Africa."
Fondo Sikot, an economist at the University of Yaounde, says trade and movements have been seriously hampered by pirate activities. He gives the example of Nigeria, which produces 2 million barrels of oil per day, but where oil tankers going abroad face the constant threat of hijacking and theft.
"If the countries do not do something to stop that, it will be so difficult to ship or import anything and without the ships being able to move freely, because they are afraid of pirates, you can imagine what it means for the economy, especially small economies like ours that depend a lot on that [maritime trade]," he said.
Hey adds the current situation is causing harm to the economies of both Africa and developed countries.
"Maritime trade is a shared interest. Every country has an interest," he said. "The U.S. is interested in keeping trade going. Cameroon is interested in keeping trade going and that is why we use that expression 'No shipping, no shopping.'"
This week's meeting in Yaounde involved senior military officers from the Economic Community of West African States, the Economic Community of Central African States, and the Gulf of Guinea commission. The officers and the U.S. Africa Command agreed to create a regional coordination center for maritime safety and also to arm it to face growing insecurity on the Gulf of Guinea.
Cameroon Defense Minister Edgard Alain Mebe Ngo says his country already has the facilities to host the center. "It will be an institution to determine all operational and practical strategies against maritime insecurity."
The Gulf of Guinea Commission says countries on the Gulf supply around 40 percent of Europe's oil and 29 percent of petroleum products to the United States, It says without better maritime security, the region could become another Gulf of Aden, where Somali pirates ran wild for several years before international naval patrols shut them down.