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Gulf of Guinea piracy continues to threaten seafarers Industry demands action

Gulf of Guinea

Members of the shipping community, Flag States and Agencies from the Gulf of Guinea gathered at IMO HQ on 7 June for a day-long symposium on Maritime Security in the Gulf of Guinea.

This event, co-sponsored by BIMCO, IMCA, ICS, ITF and OCIMF, featured speakers from regional maritime agencies as well as shipping officials, academics and military staff.  Here the shipping industry, along with seafarer groups, organized the event to highlight the continuing danger to seafarers operating in the Gulf of Guinea.

In opening the symposium, Dr Grahaeme Henderson, Chair of the UK Shipping Defence Advisory Committee and Vice President of Shell Shipping & Maritime, said:  ‘Simply put, the high level of piracy and armed robbery attacks in the Gulf of Guinea is not acceptable. Yet it is happening every day and this is not business as usual. We need to take urgent action now.’

Concerns raised by industry were supported by figures from the International Maritime Bureau showing that the number of attacks in the Gulf of Guinea region had doubled in 2018. There has also been a marked increase towards kidnapping for ransom and armed robbery incidents. Piracy expert Professor Bertrand Monnet, who has interviewed pirate gangs in the Niger Delta, estimated that there were approximately ten groups of pirates that were responsible for the majority of attacks in the area, and they were well organized and motivated.   
 

Dr Dakuku Peterside, the Director General and CEO of the Nigerian Maritime Authority and Safety Agency (NIMASA), in his keynote address to the meeting acknowledged the maritime security risks present in the Gulf of Guinea, but stated that new initiatives underway to improve the joint capacity of Nigerian law enforcement and Navy capabilities could make seafarer kidnappings history within a matter of months. He went on to state that he is keen to improve international cooperation, particularly with the shipping industry.
 

According to Peterside: ‘We have no option but to work together, but we cannot have imposed solutions. NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy will also be hosting a Global Maritime Security Conference in October to seek tailored short and long term solutions to strengthen regional and international collaborations in the Gulf of Guinea.

First hand experience

It was reported by ICS that the forum also included an interview guided by  Branko Berlan, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) Representative to the IMO, with a seafarer who had been attacked and kidnapped in a recent incident. While the seafarer is still recovering from the shock of the ordeal and did not want to be identified, he stated the attack appeared to be well organized and led from ashore.

The seafarer said: ‘The first indication I had of the attack was a knock on my cabin door and two men holding guns appeared.’  He was subsequently held in a camp on shore along with other members of his crew until his release could be secured.

Speakers at the event emphasized the region was starting to build capacity and joint cooperation to fight maritime crime through the Yaoundé Process, which focuses on joint cooperation across the region for reporting and response.  The international community is also sponsoring long-term capacity building and partnerships.
However, the shipping industry, seafarer groups and Flag States are keen to identify actions that can have an immediate impact. On this note delegates were encouraged to hear about recent Spanish Navy action to assist Equatorial Guinea to rescue seafarers from a piracy attack last month (May), as well as the new US programme to embark law enforcement officers on regional vessels.

Jakob Larsen, Head of Security for BIMCO pointed out that regional states needed to play their part as well.  He commented: ‘Nigerian piracy mainly affects a small geographical area of around 150 x 150 nautical miles. The problem can be solved easily and quickly, especially if Nigeria partners with international navies. Nigeria holds the key to solving this problem.’

The IMO symposium was held in the lead-up to a series of meetings focusing on seafarer safety and security at the IMO.

Concerns over increased piracy in the Gulf of Guinea have resulted in several member states submitting proposals that could help address the crisis. 

According to Russell Pegg, Security Adviser at the Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF):  ‘We are encouraging all stakeholders to take a pro-active role on this issue and are working with member states to support those proposals that could help mitigate the risks to seafarers.’
Guy Platten, Secretary General of the International Chamber of Shipping concluded by saying: ‘It is unacceptable that seafarers are being exposed to such appalling dangers and we need the authorities to take action now.’

 

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Our picture shows a Carnival line up. Five Carnival ships are due in Durban in week commencing 24 May. (Photo: www.africaports.co.za )

No less than five Carnival Cruise ships are due to arrive in Durban between 26 and 28 May to take on bunkers and to restock depleted supplies.

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Hotel staff and entertainers

These are the entertainment staff, the onboard shop workers, beauty salon practitioners, waiters and bus boys, chefs and kitchen staff, cabin cleaners, pursers and front desk people all making up the staff working on board cruise ships.

With cruising curtailed these former employees are finally returning home to destinations like India, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines after having remained on board their ships for more than two months, unable to go ashore or receive visitors ever since cruising operations were suspended in mid -March. Ahead they face another three or four weeks at sea before being allowed to disembark. However, there’s something of a problem.

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Governments must act now in order to avoid personal injury to, and mental breakdown of, seafarers and avoid the significant risk of accidents and consequential danger to life and the environment.

Concern at IFSMA

IFSMA is receiving an increasing number of reports from its ship masters’ associations around the world concerned for the welfare and safety of crews and the increased risk with which they are operating in an already high risk environment.  Seafarers are feeling let down and abandoned by their Governments. 

Unprecedented times

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