The recent rise in kidnappings in West Africa within the last 18 months, and is likely driven by a rational cost/benefit analysis of the risks piratical groups face, says maritime security and risk intelligence firm Dryad Global.
The firm, in its report. Global Maritime Security Review 2019, released last week, says that the increased policing of the Nigerian EEZ may have created a climate where piratical groups within the region may have inferred that a high risk/high reward activity such as kidnapping is a more prudent use of assets, as opposed to robbery which may pose the same level of risk but without the same level of reward.
The confluence of oil wealth and weak governance has led to the conditions that now see West Africa as the global epicentre of violent maritime crime, with piracy remaining centred on Nigeria.
Despite the anti-graft legislation and pro-business efforts of President Muhammadu Buhari , endemic corruption and widespread unemployment continue to blight Nigeria. Weak law enforcement and convoluted bureaucracy has led to a lack of formal structures and resources to deal with the soaring crime rate. Traditionally Nigeria has taken a “land first” approach to securing trade networks, albeit with limited resources, and despite 90% of Nigerian imports and exports moving by sea.
The Niger Delta is the focal point of West African maritime crime. The presence of global oil in the region has served to exacerbate social tensions between communities and private companies, which in many cases has given rise to militancy, illicit bunkering and fuel theft.
Beyond Nigerian waters, West African piracy has seen a number of notable incidents and trends. At the time of publishing, 13 attacks occurred within the waters of Togo and Benin and 11 within the waters off Cameroon. The latter represents an 83% increase on incidents from 2018 and has led to Cameroonian waters being designated as the fourth most affected by maritime crime after Nigeria, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Nevertheless, the report states that Nigeria has shown signs of effectiveness in dealing with its MARSEC problems, as evidenced by the downturn in incidents. However, the same progress has yet to be mirrored in neighbouring states.
In the short-to-medium term, Nigeria is expected to continue to be the epicentre of West African piracy, however the downward trajectory of incidents is expected to continue. This is likely to have a squeezing effect on neighbouring states, forcing piracy into increasingly permissible areas, and without reciprocal investment and commitment to resolving MARSEC issues, a steady increase in incidents is anticipated.