Such has been the increase in piracy that London-based insurers Lloyd’s Market Association has listed the waters off Nigeria and Benin in the same risk category as Somalia. However, there are important differences between the piracy in the two regions. In West Africa, piracy tends to be of the “hit and run” variety, where ships are looted, rather than taken hostage, as is the case in the Horn. The Gulf of Guinea pirates also appear to be more violent.
In Somalia, there is no effective government authority that can counter piracy, and an international anti-piracy patrol has stepped in to fill the void. In the Gulf of Guinea, there are capable governments and no international patrol. Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan has promised close anti-piracy cooperation with the government of Benin, probably more affected by the scourge because a significant portion of the state revenue comes from port charges.
Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has begun to receive extensive media attention, especially in the aftermath of the Lloyd’s Market Association notice. If piracy continues to grow in the Gulf of Guinea, there may be calls for greater involvement by the international community. There is a press report that Nigerian naval officers, representatives of its maritime industry and other groups have already met with U.S. officials.
In the past, Nigerian government officials and Nigerian naval officers have been complicit in illegal oil theft (called “bunkering”) in the Gulf of Guinea. Part of the challenge of addressing piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, for local governments and for the international community, will be the culture of impunity that continues to exist with respect to maritime crime in the region.