Fighting piracy in the Gulf of Guinea needs a radical rethink

By Dirk Siebels

The Bonita had been anchored off Benin for several days, waiting for a berth in the port of Cotonou. On November 2, 2019 the crew had a traumatic awakening. Armed men boarded the vessel and kidnapped nine crew members. Only two days later, four seafarers were kidnapped from the Elka Aristotle, which was anchored off Lomé in neighbouring Togo.

Unfortunately, these were not the only attacks off the coast of West Africa in which seafarers were kidnapped. Nevertheless, the patterns are changing, with gradual signs of improvement. In addition, attacker success rates in the region have declined from 80% over ten years ago to just under 50% in 2018.

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Benin scales up piracy preventing measures in Cotonou port

COTONOU, Nov. 7 (Xinhua) — Benin’s government on Wednesday announced scaled up protection, security and safety measures for hovering vessels in the Cotonou port.

The measures include the “provision of an armed protection squad on board”, according to a government release made public Wednesday night. “The presence of the squad is going to prevent any attempts of piracy and to alert operating centers”, the release also said.

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Nine sailors abducted off the coast of Benin

MV Bonita, image via J.J. Ugland.

A Norway-based shipping company says that nine of its employees have been abducted from one of its vessels while it was moored off the coast of Benin in West Africa.

Shipping firm J.J. Ugland said the cargo ship, the Bonita, was attacked on Saturday by pirates 15km (9 miles) off the coast.

The crew’s identity and nationality have not been made public, but the shipping firm said the rest of the crew moved the vessel into the Port of Cotonou in Benin.

The ship was carrying a cargo of gypsum, a mineral commonly used as fertiliser, which was destined for Benin, the firm said.

While piracy has decreased world wide, West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea remains notorious for abductions by armed groups who usually demand ransoms for the safe return of victims.

Several abductions have been reported in the region in recent months, including eight crew members taken from a German-owned vessel off Cameroon in August, and 10 Turkish sailors off the coast of Nigeria in July.