International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre (IMB), the Gulf of Guinea hit a record with 130 crew kidnappings in 22 separate incidents in 2020 (source: ICC Commercial Crime Services).
About 95% of all reported maritime kidnapping cases worldwide have taken place in the Gulf of Guinea. Unfortunately, the first months of 2021 do not show any signs of improvement. Already in January several notable attacks and violent kidnappings were reported.
The IMB report notes that incidents in the Gulf of Guinea are particularly dangerous as the majority of the perpetrators were equipped with guns. Until a couple of years ago cargo theft seemed to be the main driver for piracy, but nowadays we are seeing a shift towards violent kidnapping of crew members with the objective to demand a ransom. The kidnapped crew members are consequently taken deep into the jungle where they are held hostage for months until ransom is paid. The conditions in the camps are severe, resulting in sickness or sometimes even death.
The issue of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea used to be significantly different from, for example, the Horn of Africa, where most attacks take place in international waters where vessels can be protected by the international community. Within the Gulf of Guinea, however, many attacks occur near the coast and the responsibility to deal with an act of piracy within territorial waters rests with the coastal state. Previous years have shown that the pirates are now able to operate further from shore, as incidents have been reported to take place at 200 nautical miles from the coastline. As a result, the international community has been alerted and initiatives to protect vessels have been initiated such as, for example, the pilot case of the EU’s Coordinated Maritime Presences (CMP) concept (source: European Council).
It is noted that in addition to the existing High-Risk Area in the territorial waters of Nigeria and Benin, a new Extended Risk Zone has been designated to cover a substantially larger area in the Gulf between Liberia and Angola.