President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday called for national and regional collaboration to tackle the security challenges being confronted in the maritime domain of the Gulf of Guinea.
Represented by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in Lagos while declaring open a two-day conference organised by the Nigerian Navy to mark its 62nd anniversary, Buhari called for an appraisal of multinational approaches to enhance maritime security in the Gulf.
The conference is being attended by navies of Gulf of Guinea states and friendly navies around the world, including Pakistan, China, Brazil and Portugal.
Buhari, however, acknowledged that the Gulf of Guinea States had long recognized that Security in the Gulf was both a challenge to maritime safety and a significant threat to their economic prosperity.
According to him, the Gulf of Guinea is perhaps one of the most strategic maritime geographies in the world.
“On account of its proximity to the European and North American markets, the Gulf of Guinea has been an important route for container ships headed for Europe and America.
“Besides, the Gulf hosts one of the most important regions for oil and gas production and transportation. It also contains some of the largest hydrocarbon deposits ever discovered.
”But in the past few years the Gulf has experienced security challenges that have made it one of the most problematic maritime spaces in the world,” the president said.
He recalled that in 2016, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) recorded 53 piracy attacks or attempted attacks in the Gulf of Guinea representing 28 per cent of worldwide attacks.
Quoting further from the report, he said the Gulf also accounted for more than 50 per cent of the global kidnappings for ransom, with 34 seafarers kidnapped out of a total of 62 worldwide.
“Besides, the trafficking of arms, drugs and persons, widespread unregulated and unreported fishing activities, severe environmental damage and pollution have remained constant challenges.”
The president noted that the establishment of the Gulf of Guinea Commission- GGC- in 2001 and other measures taken by individual and member states were important initiative aimed at combating threats in the gulf.
“But the destination of our journey to Safety and stability in the Gulf is still a while away, which is why this conference is important.
“It is an opportunity to reopen the issues,” he said and commend the navy for Initiative it had taken to secure the gulf and Nigeria maritime domain.
The Gulf of Guinea affects a number of countries in West Africa as well as the wider international community.
By 2011, the UN said it had become an issue of global concern.
Pirates in the Gulf of Guinea are often part of heavily armed criminal enterprises, who employ violent methods to steal oil cargo.
In 2012, the International Maritime Bureau, Oceans Beyond Piracy and the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme reported that the number of vessels attacks by West African pirates had reached a world high, with 966 seafarers attacked during the year.
As of 2014, pirate attacks in West Africa mainly occur in territorial waters, terminals and harbours rather than in the high seas.
This incident pattern has hindered intervention by international naval forces.
Pirates in the region operate a well-funded criminal industry, which includes established supply networks.
They are often part of heavily armed and sophisticated criminal enterprises, who increasingly use motherships to launch their attacks.
By 2010, 45 and by 2011 64 incidents were reported to the UN International Maritime Organization. However, many events go unreported.
Piracy acts interfere with the legitimate trading interests of the affected countries that include Benin, Togo, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
By 2017 it became apparent that the problem of kidnapping had been increasing with 96 seafarers taken hostage that year versus 44 in the year prior.