West African pirates and need for NATO intervention

There is a need for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and some governments at the highest level to be more engaged in finding a long-term solution to the crisis. The international community should remain committed in the efforts of taking concrete actions towards protecting the vessels and crew operating in the Gulf of Guinea. We cannot continue to allow crews to be taken hostage, a situation which is simply unacceptable. The Gulf of Guinea comprises 20 countries. Twenty thousand ships pass through the Gulf of Guinea a year. One hundred and thirty sailors were kidnapped in the Gulf of Guinea in 2020. Ninety-five per cent of global piracy occurred in the Gulf of Guinea in 2020. Piracy threat grows off the coast of West Africa. There is a need for another Operation Ocean Shield which was NATO’s counter piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden and off the Horn of Africa. NATO has helped to deter and disrupt pirate attacks, while protecting vessels and increasing the general level of security in the region since 2008. NATO could provide naval escorts and deterrence while increasing cooperation with other counter piracy operations in the Gulf of Guinea in order to optimise efforts and tackle the evolving pirate trends and tactics. NATO could conduct counter-piracy activities in full complementarily with the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions.

Despite the efforts of the Nigerian government in collaboration with governments of countries in the West African sub-region to stem piracy on the Gulf of Guinea, the region still remains the world’s hotbed of the maritime crime. Kidnappings and piracy for ransom in Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea are common. A popular attack occurred in 2019 when a Turkish cargo ship was attacked by Nigerian pirates, and 10 sailors, all Turkish nationals, were taken hostage for ransom. Later, all sailors were released.Whilst the attention of the world has been diverted by COVID-19, piracy and armed attacks against ships’ crews remain a serious problem, requiring a concerted response by the international community at the highest level. I am particularly concerned by the deteriorating security situation in the Gulf of Guinea where there has been a sharp increase in the number of attacks on ships’ crews, many extremely violent, currently accounting for some 95 per cent of maritime kidnappings worldwide. Whereas the majority of attacks against ships off West Africa in recent years had taken place in territorial waters, making intervention by foreign military vessels politically problematic, many vessels are now being attacked and boarded by pirates well outside territorial limits.

The Gulf of Guinea, on West Africa’s southern coast, is the world’s most pirate-infested sea, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported recently. Pirates in the Gulf of Guinea are often part of heavily armed criminal enterprises, which employ violent methods to steal oil cargo. According to the IMB, pirates in the Gulf of Guinea target all kinds of vessels. Crews from fishing and refrigerated cargo vessels, or even oil tankers have been taken hostage or kidnapped. I want to appeal to President Muhammadu Buhari and NATO to find out from the Nigerian Navy whether to engage sea pirates in Nigeria and disband the Navy as long as maritime security embarrassment is concerned. The activities of sea pirates in the Gulf of Guinea have raised concerns for Nigerians to ask questions whether we still have Naval force. There are unconfirmed speculations that some naval officers are colluding with sea pirates to seize foreign vessels in the Gulf of Guinea.  Pirates’ attacks in the Gulf of Guinea have become international maritime embarrassment and threat to Nigeria. It appears that the pirates are well equipped more than the Nigerian Navy and there is need for President Buhari to register all sea vessels in Nigeria to regulate the activities of pirates. It appears the pirates are better trained and equipped than the Nigeria Navy. Nigerians are asking where the pirates keep their operation vessels.

The Gulf of Guinea countries must learn a lesson from Australia’s strong maritime security reputation that would have great symbolic value in demonstrating the significance of the maritime security challenges it shares with her neighbours. As the scale and frequency of maritime threats grow in the Gulf of Guinea, there is an increasing need for Gulf of Guinea states to liaise with Australia to promote and preserve good order at sea. The desire to improve maritime security is a necessary step towards stamping out piracy and other maritime crimes. The emerging intra- and extra- regional naval collaborations need to be expanded and sustained.  To this end, the Gulf of Guinea states need to evolve an Australian integrated maritime strategy that will comprehensively address the various threats, challenges and opportunities that confront the region.


  • Inwalomhe Donald writes from Warri, Delta State


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