CALABAR, NIGERIA - The Gulf of Guinea remains a global hot spot for piracy, with reported attacks concentrated off the coast of Nigeria.
Regional naval coordination has been a challenge, as the gulf touches 17 countries along West and Central Africa. Cameroon and Nigeria, however, are now reporting some success.
Nigerian navy officials recently received Cameroon's warship Le Ntem after it made it through rough seas to arrive off the coast of Calabar.
Among the officials present was Captain Muhammad Bida of the Nigerian navy.
“As the Cameroonian war ship is approaching, definitely the navy has to come and receive the vessel and escort the vessel inside," he said. "And as you can see, our channel is the longest channel in Nigeria. We have about 49 nautical miles. That is about 90 kilometers inwards."
The visit was part of ongoing cooperation that began between the Cameroonian and Nigerian navies in 2014. Each country allows the other's navy to enter its territorial waters in pursuit. The two navies have also established a communication system and provide each other backup during operations.
On their way to Nigeria, the Cameroonian crew opened fire to scare the crew of a ship they said was fishing in a prohibited area. Nigerian naval ships soon arrived to assist.
Illegal fishing leads to arrests
Captain Fabrice Ntieuche of Cameroon's navy said the fishing vessel disobeyed instructions to stop until authorities threatened to use force.
He said all of the occupants aboard the fishing boat were arrested.
Ntieuche also said the ships on patrol don't hesitate to threaten force, like firing warning shots, as the maritime area around Calabar was once notorious for pirate activity.
Rear Admiral James Oluwole of Nigeria's eastern naval command in Calabar said the two countries have cut piracy attacks in the area dramatically.
“We have seen better collaboration,” Oluwole said. “We have on both sides been able to check the acts of piracy and made some arrests, even all the way from Angola down to the end of Senegal. Before, it was not that easy to collaborate. But once all these countries come together, we have come a long way.”
Incidents of piracy have dropped
The Nigerian navy official said these waters straddling Cameroon and Nigeria saw 53 piracy-related incidents in 2013 and 2014.
So far this year, the International Maritime Board has reported 14 such incidents in all of the Gulf of Guinea on its online “live piracy and armed robbery map.”
None of those incidents has occurred on the portion of the gulf between the Cameroonian border and Nigeria's Calabar.
That's not to say the situation is calm.
The navies of the two countries say they routinely deal with illegal fishing as well as cases of kidnappings for ransom around Calabar and along Cameroon's Bakassi Peninsula. They also deal with cases of drug trafficking and ecological threats.