Nigeria becomes world piracy hot spot

Nigeria has become the world piracy “hot spot”, with its prized oil industry a particular target, and the raiders have exposed flaws in the country’s security.

Despite the massive revenues earned from oil, officials concede Nigeria is ill-equipped to combat pirates who ply the seas with speed boats, modern machine guns and radios and target tankers, trawlers, barges and oil-industry back-up vessels.

According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), Nigeria accounted for 10 of the 49 attacks registered worldwide in the first quarter of 2008, more than 20%. It called Nigeria “the number one hot spot” for piracy.

It has taken over from Indonesia for the first time in 16 years of reporting.

The most pirate-infested zones are around the economic capital, Lagos, and the oil-rich waters of the southern Niger Delta.

The International Maritime Organisation, a United Nations body, is drawing up a report on Nigeria, which, it says, will be confidential and shown only to the authorities.

Last month, a seminar in Abuja brought together top officials from the Nigerian navy, the Nigerian Maritime Security Agency (Nimasa) and IMB head Pottengal Mukundan to discuss how to protect Nigeria’s 853km of coastline.

Spokesperson Henry Babalola said the Nigerian Navy lacks the means to combat pirates.

“Between Bayelsa and Delta [two oil-rich southern states] there are 3 014 creeks leading to the ocean. With just 11 vessels it’s extremely difficult to control these zones,” he told the seminar.

The navy will buy two helicopter gunships, several patrol boats and additional weapons.
But the seminar recommended procuring offshore patrol boats, radars and flat-bottomed boats capable of navigating the creeks.

The Nigerian Navy has 17 warships, but the biggest are in a very poor state of repair.

According to one estimate, apart from a handful of light vessels such as coastguard ships and speedboats, “no other sea-going vessel is actually fully operational”.

“We call urgently on the government to equip the navy,” Nimasa official Lami Tumaka said.

The pirates have speedboats, heavy machine guns and radio systems to coordinate their attacks, according to lawyer Louis Mbanefo.

The attacks regularly leave dead and wounded.

In January, French maritime company Bourbon suspended activities on the Bonny River, a strategic stretch of water for oil companies operating in the Delta.

The decision came after an attack on one of its vessels chartered by Shell, the Bourbon Leda. The Bourbon Leda is 47m long and was in a convoy of six vessels.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the best-armed group in the region, claimed responsibility for the attack.

But the pirates do not content themselves with just floating targets: they also use their speedboats to launch lightning raids on banks in towns along the coast—Port Harcourt oil city in particular.

Mbanefo noted a recent attack in Port Harcourt’s harbour area on First Bank of Nigeria staff who were transferring 300-million naira ($2,54-million).

Each new attack sends oil prices up and in April, President Umaru Yar’Adua called for an international force to be quickly set up to protect Gulf of Guinea oil installations.—AFP

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