A surge in pirate activities in the Gulf of Guinea poses a grave threat to the survival and growth of West African maritime trade, an expert has said.
Albert Derrick Fiatui, executive director of the Ghana-based Center for International Maritime Affairs, told Xinhua on Thursday that the increase in pirate activities in regional waters have had catastrophic effects on the economies.
“Between 2020 and the first quarter of 2021, Ghana recorded nine attacks,” he said. “That is on the high side because, for the same period between 2018 and 2019, there were just about five cases.”
“The attacks have been increasing, and it is more pervasive in the Gulf of Guinea than any other region,” Fiatui said, noting that the Gulf of Guinea accounted for about 95 percent of all reported piracy attacks over the same period.
“So you can imagine the extent of pressure on the Gulf of Guinea,” he said.
The targets of the pirates have been changing over time, from snatching cargo to taking hostages for ransom, endangering the lives of crew members, Fiatui said.
“This threat is affecting the shipping industry because many people are now scared to go to sea. Aside from the other challenges that we had in the past when it was difficult to get people plying the trade, now this issue has made it riskier for crews at sea,” he said.
“Lately, we have had reports of the washing ashore of bodies around our coastal communities, and it is obvious that some of the bodies are those of people attacked and killed by pirates on the high seas,” Fiatui said.
This was indicative of the increasing threat of piracy in the regional waters, linking the surge in piracy to the rising incidence of armed insurgency and insecurity in the West Africa,” he said.
“The piracy threat deters vessels from other parts of the world from sailing to this region because of safety concerns,” Fiatui said. “So the few that take the risk increase their freight charges.”
Although importers pay the higher freight and insurance charges, Fiatui said, “Ultimately, the consumer bears the increasing cost through purchasing these goods at higher prices.”
“Shipment to Africa and the Gulf of Guinea is reducing due to the increasing attacks by these pirates,” he said. “Previously, the attacks were on general goods, but now the focus is also shifting to bulk petroleum cargoes and exotic goods.”
“As a continent, we are import-dependent, so if we have this threat cutting off the source of our imports, then we are in real danger,” Fiatui said.
He called for more proactive measures against rampant piracy, rather than the reactive posture adopted over the years, urging maritime authorities in the region to cooperate more effectively in suppressing the threat.
“We have gone beyond the point of using naval vessels to pursue the pirates,” Fiatui said. “It is time to deploy air patrols to go up there and monitor and track the movement of vessels, identify the threat of pirates and neutralize them.”
“Just relying on speed boats to chase pirates up and down has not worked. It is time to engage air patrols and tackle the issue,” he said.
Fiatui also called for collaboration between the maritime authorities in the Gulf of Guinea and their partners in other regions to clear the regional waters of pirate activities.
“The threat affects other regions that have trading links with west Africa as well,” he said.