Photograph — AP

On Tuesday, ECOWAS Parliament began a five-day meeting toward implementing West Africa’s strategy in tackling piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. The meeting with the theme, “Maritime Security and the Fight against Piracy: the Role of ECOWAS Parliament” attracted parliamentarians from member states and is holding in Lagos.

The Speaker of the Parliament, Mr Moustapha Cisse`Lo, said the continued threats posed by the activities of pirates in the Gulf of Guinea required prompt action by ECOWAS. The meeting of the parliament in Lagos was meant to identify ways of implementing the core components of the strategy for maritime safety in ECOWAS states.

Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has evolved over years and for some time, smaller ships shuttling employees and materials belonging to the oil companies with any involvement in oil exploration had been at risk in Nigeria. In 2014, pirate attacks in West Africa mainly occurred on territorial waters, terminals and harbours rather than on the high seas. Pirates in the region operate a well-funded criminal industry, which includes established supply networks. The local pirates’ overall aim is to steal oil cargo. As such, they do not attach much importance to holding crew members and non-oil cargo and vessels for ransom. Additionally, pirates in the Gulf of Guinea are especially noted for their violent modus operandi, which frequently involves the kidnapping, torture and shooting of crewmen. 

Oil theft and illegal bunkering plagues the Gulf of Guinea. Nigeria alone loses 40,000 and 100, 000 barrels a day due to theft. An estimate of the annual cost of piracy to the Gulf of Guinea ranges from $565 million to $2 billion.  Also, instability in the Gulf has overtly decreased revenue collected from trade; Benin, whose economy depends on taxing ships entering the port of Cotonou, has experienced a 70 percent decline in shipping activity due to piracy. Furthermore, as piracy drives up insurance premiums for international shipping companies, the price of imported goods in the region could spike, further endangering local economies

The international community has expressed concern over the increasing number of reports of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. The IMB Piracy Reporting Centre reported that the range of the attacks is extending and the level of violence against the crews is “dangerously high”. In November 2011 Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon assembled a team to examine the situation. As a result, a recommendation was made to convene a regional summit as to form a united front by the affected West African countries. It was recognised that the area needs a comprehensive maritime security framework across national boundaries to fight piracy.

The verity of a continually shifting threat informed the Yaoundé Declaration of June 2013 in which the heads of government from ECOWAS and ECCAS agreed to establish a Maritime Inter-Regional Coordination Center (MICC) in Yaoundé, Cameroon. A “Code of Conduct Concerning the Repression of Piracy, Armed Robbery against Ships, and Illicit Maritime Activity in West and Central Africa” was adopted to further promote collective efforts on information sharing, interdiction, prosecution, and support to victims.

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