Thursday, September 22, 2011

African pirates eye high seas

Oman Tribune
22 September 2011

DAKAR/LONDON Nigerian pirate gangs are moving into the waters of neighbouring countries and attacking vessels further offshore after being driven from their coastal haunts by a military crackdown.

The shift to deeper waters mirrors one by their better-known Somali counterparts after pressure from international warships and raises the threat to shipping in the Gulf of Guinea, which is rich in oil and minerals.

Pirate attacks have spiked off the coast of Benin this year while dropping in neighbouring Nigeria, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) watchdog, and attacks may also be on the rise in Cameroon to the south.

“While Somalis are not coming to Nigeria with franchise kits, Nigerians do have smartphones and so can surf the Web and keep an eye on what the Somalis and other pirates are doing and incorporate inspired changes,” said Michael Frodl with US-based consultancy C-LEVEL Maritime Risks.

“All this represents a growing menace to shipping off Nigeria, Benin, and other West African nations.”

London’s marine insurance market last month added Benin to its high-risk list, and the vast Gulf of Guinea region could become more risky for shipping, threatening a growing source of oil, metals and agricultural products.

“We believe that this is happening because the Nigerian navy and coastguard has clamped down heavily on piracy in their waters, forcing the pirates to move elsewhere,” said IMB manager Cyrus Mody.

A spokesman for Nigeria’s military Joint Task Force confirmed that intensified patrols and intelligence operations had led to a drop in piracy in Nigeria. Authorities had made 30 arrests in the past month, he said.

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