Fifty-four attacks in 2015, nearly one every week throughout the year, dozens of deaths; and 2016 has begun with the same principle. They have caused economic damage for over 700 million dollars, according to the US report based on Oceans Beyond Piracy. They are the new pirates who infest the waters of the Gulf of Guinea, which is now the most dangerous sea in the world. They do not sail on galleys, sailing ships, brigs or schooners with black flags and skulls, but they are equally dangerous, perhaps even more dangerous than back in time. Today’s pirates are changing marine tactics: “In the past, one of the leading piracy models in the Gulf of Guinea was hijacking for the purpose of cargo theft – said Matthew Walje, one of the main authors of the report -. But the growing rapidity of the marines’ response to attacks, pirates can no longer spend entire days plundering the seized ships. They have codified a faster attack model: kidnapping and asking for ransom, which does not require much time,” Walje said.
Whereas piracy is decreasing on a global level, there are two places where it is still reigning: the Gulf of Aden and, according to the International Maritime Bureau, the Gulf of Guinea. Forty-four sailors have been kidnapped in the first three months of 2016, according to a report published by IMB, and two of the three ships were hijacked in the Gulf of Guinea. The route that passes through these waters is an important one: shipments play a vital role in the West African economies such as Nigeria’s, Ghana’s and Côte d’Ivoire’s, which export raw materials such as oil and cocoa through their ports.
Really few pirates have been arrested and put on trial after the attacks. Lack of legal proceedings, gives little encouragement to the seafarers to report crimes, especially because many of the crew members continue to work in this area, risking to face their attackers again. This contributes to a chronic lack of military intervention to protect navigation, further exacerbating the endemic maritime insecurity.
Lieutenant Nikos Dagre, killed aboard the MT Kalamos, had earlier expressed great concern about his journeys through the Gulf of Guinea: “There are very dangerous things there – he had written back home – I do not want to travel back to those places”. Unfortunately, his words proved prescient, continuing to torment his family.
One of the most serious 2015 incidents in West Africa resulted in an attack on MT Kalamos. The ship flying Malta’s flag was waiting in an oil terminal near Bonny, Nigeria, with 23 crew members on board when it was attacked by pirates. According to reports, the pirates reached the ship in a speedboat and the captain of Kalamos swiftly sounded the alarm to alert the crew to retreat to come back to the citadel.
Despite the presence of two armed guards on board the ship, a couple of pirates managed to get on the ship and take two seamen hostage. In the following confusion, the Nigerian guards engaged in a firefight with the pirates, and one of the hostages was tragically shot and killed in the crossfire. Then, the pirates managed to escape, kidnapping three crew members (two Greeks and a Pakistani). During the flight, a crew member has been pushed into the sea by pirates, hitting him with the anchor chain. The kidnapped men were later released, but no one has been ever arrested or tried for this attack.
The impact of piracy on seafarers and their families requires adequate post-crash care and support for the victims and their loved ones. Whereas many international organizations have drawn attention on the victims of Somali piracy, it is still unclear whether the seamen in West Africa have access to similar treatment. Yet another case of how some of the world’s peripheries do not exist to be at the center of humanitarian attention. A slap in the face of equity.