Thursday, September 8, 2011

Pirates of the Atlantic: Africa's Other Coast Gets Its Share

7 September 2011

By Karen Leigh / Accra

In late July, pirates stormed an Italian oil tanker, startling the 23 crew members guiding the ship toward its African port. But this was not another attack off the coast of Somalia, whose pirates have for years been the scourge of shipping lanes off its coast. The men who seized the Anema e Core work thousands of miles to the west, in the Gulf of Guinea.

In the past eight months, acts of piracy have spiked in the waters off West Africa, says John Drake, a senior consultant at the London-based security firm AKE. The wave of violence seems partly inspired by the Somali pirates and partly a result of the mixed blessings that come, countries in the region are finding out, with discovering vast oil reserves. (See photos of dramatic pirate-hostage rescues.)

Piracy here is a combination of brazen criminality and vigilante redressing of economic imbalance. West Africa's waters are an oil-soaked frontier for downtrodden young men hailing from the lawless Niger Delta, the area of Nigeria that perhaps best exemplifies the widening gap between oil wealth and poverty.

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