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Obangame: How Nigeria is battling crude oil theft, piracy in Gulf of Guinea

After several years of reign of terror by crude oil thieves and pirates who often come out from the creeks in the Niger Delta to…

After several years of reign of terror by crude oil thieves and pirates who often come out from the creeks in the Niger Delta to attack oil tankers and container liners, the number of attacks has dropped in the last one year.

This has practically forced the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), a branch of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to remove Nigeria from the world piracy list.

The last ship that was hijacked, IMB monitoring piracy in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) said, occurred over a year and half ago.

This is a far cry from the height of the piracy between 2020 and 2021, when several ships were attacked and crew members abducted, forcing multinational shipping companies to pay several millions of dollars as ransom for the release of the abductees.

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IMB 2020 security report shows that piracy incidents in the GoG reached a new height as crew kidnapping in the region accounted for 95 per cent of the world’s crew kidnap cases. It said a total of 135 crew kidnappings occurred all over the world in 2020 and that GoG alone had 95 percent share. The same year witnessed 295 incidents of piracy and armed robbery, and this was a sharp rise from 162 attacks recorded in 2019.

As if that wasn’t enough, in 2021, a fresh attack occurred on a Maersk vessel where their container ship was attacked twice within a space of four hours.

The direct and indirect impact of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea on the economy of West African countries is said to be enormous, as countries lost about $1.9 billion yearly as highlighted by the Secretary-General’s report. In addition, the enormous cost of illegal, under-reported and unregulated fishing, amounting to $1.6 billion per year, as stated in the report of November 23, 2022.

Most of the cost is tied not to the value of stolen ships or cargo but related to anti-piracy measures taken by shipping companies, according to a study by stable sea, a transnational maritime security research organisation.

Worried by the rising piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, the US-Africa Command encouraged collaboration among navies in the region.

Right now, the criminal activities in the Gulf of Guinea have been reduced drastically due to the Obangame Express exercise, the Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo, said during the flag off of the exercise in Lagos.

Speaking at the flag off, Gambo said with the successes of the exercise, the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) is now capable of lifting about 30 million Africans out of extreme poverty and also boost the income of nearly 68 million others who currently live on less than $5.50 per day.

The CNS revealed that the continental free trade agreement will also boost Africa’s income by $450bn by 2035, which according to him, is a gain of about seven percent, while adding $76bn to the income of the rest of the world.

The Chief of the Naval Staff said the yearly multinational sea exercise organized by the US-AFRICA Command has encouraged robust cooperation among West Africa navies, capable of leading to a trade deficit of Africa countries dropping by as much as 51 percent annually.

Gambo said apart from a drop in its trade deficit, the presence of Africa navies at sea is also capable of boosting intra-African trade by 33 percent.

This is even as the CNS disclosed that the Nigerian Navy deployed nine warships, two helicopters, the special boat service and other maritime assets for the exercise, along with navies of the world to fight activities of pirates and crude oil thieves in the Gulf of Guinea.

“The maritime industry and the shipping sector in particular constitute a critical driver in implementation of the ideals of African Continental Free Trade Agreement.

“The Gulf of Guinea countries are already collaborating for the establishment of a Maritime Taskforce to further facilitate security and enhance international commerce,” he said.

He stressed that it is envisaged that Nigeria and indeed the Nigerian Navy would provide a lead role in this regard.

“The magnitude of most maritime threats and their interconnectedness, coupled with the fact that they provide such a diversity of impacts, demands that we keep coming together to fashion collaborative framed responses. I make bold to state that no single navy or Coast Guard can do it alone. It is therefore hoped that lessons from this exercise will be developed into collaborative action plans that will support strategic level initiatives to enhance our collective preparedness to successfully curb emerging maritime challenges in the ever-changing environment in the Gulf of Guinea and beyond,” he added.

The Chief of the Naval Staff stated further that the Exercise, from its inception in 2010, has grown in both complexity and in accomplishment, starting with just nine participating nations in a centralized exercise, it has now moved to decentralized events with about 28 participating nations and over 100 individually evaluated events.

U.S. Sixth Fleet Commander, Vice Adm. Thomas Ishee, who visited Nigeria during the exercise, emphasised its importance as the largest multinational maritime exercise in Western and Central Africa to the GoG.

The visit to Lagos, held in conjunction with OE23, also included engagements at the Western Navy Command, Naval Airbase Ojo, and the Joint Maritime Security Training Centre. The meetings focused on enhancing relationships with senior government and military leaders and underscored the longstanding importance of U.S.-African maritime cooperation on mutual security interests within the region.

During the OE23 opening ceremony held at the Naval Dockyard, Ishee delivered remarks alongside U.S. Consul General Will Stevens and the Flag Officer Commanding of Nigeria’s Western Naval Command, Rear Adm. Yakubu Wambai.

“The global importance and vast scale of the waters surrounding Africa provides an opportunity to work with our African partners to solve transnational issues

“The work accomplished during Obangame Express strengthens regional cooperation and trust, ensuring African nations can continue protecting their coastal resources and sovereign waters,” Ishee said.

Over the last decade, the United States has steadily increased maritime security cooperation with partners on Africa’s Atlantic coast to improve maritime domain awareness capability and ability to protect their sovereign waters. A robust partnership between the United States and African nations is vital to achieve shared priorities of strengthening free and open international order.


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