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3 French captured near the coast of Nigeria. To be distinguished from Somalia

(BRUSSELS2) Piracy is endemic not only off the coast of Somalia but also in the Gulf of Guinea, off the coast of Nigeria. We sometimes tend to forget it. But reality often reminds us of this. Last night, 3 French people were kidnapped aboard their ship, the Bourbon Alexandre, an “anchor lifter” which operated on the Addax oil field for the French group Bourbon; the 13 other crew members are safe and sound according to the industrialist (1).

The Gulf of Guinea, second “catchment” zone for piracy

Nigeria has always been one of the most dangerous areas in terms of piracy, just behind the Indian Ocean (Somalia, Ocean, Gulf of Aden), according to statistics regularly updated by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB). After increasing in 2007 and 2008 (respectively 42 and 40 attacks compared to 16 and 12 in 2005 and 2006), attacks decreased slightly in 2009 (28) and also in 2010 (around ten in the first half).

Even if for convenience we will speak of piracy, this act is more likened to organized crime, more or less linked to political questions, than to piracy. Moreover, in the legal sense of the term, since it generally takes place in territorial waters, or even port waters, it is an “armed robbery”.

European experts, however, distinguish between acts committed on one side or the other of Africa.

Very different characteristics

In the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, it is a “real industry”, as General Buster Howes, commander of the European mission EUNAVFOR Atalanta (2), essentially linked to the disintegration of the Somali state, with capture of boats and crews, of all origins, and delivery for ransom. Holding hostages can sometimes last a very long time (several months). The area is very wide and most often in international waters. Generally during seizures, the sailors taken hostage are relatively well treated (even if the stay on Somali land or on board the detained boat is often trying, due to the heat and lack of food).

In the Gulf of Guinea, in West Africa, these are more armed attacks, concentrated in a fairly limited area, close to the coast, often in territorial waters or even port waters of Nigeria, the Guinea, even Cameroon. They are more aimed at oil company vessels – which are often easily affordable (crane ships, dredgers, etc.). The boat is pillaged but not hijacked, the crew members are taken hostage. Most often only Westerners (whites) are captured, not African sailors. They are then released against a ransom. This release often occurs quite quickly (a few days). On the other hand, the “bandits” are rather violent and the exchanges of fire with the private guards who protect the ships or the Nigerian navy which intervenes are often “fed” and all-out. Thus the two attacks in the first quarter of 2010, one of them ended in hospital for 2 attacked sailors.

British and Nigerians (credit: UK Royal Marine)

The attacks are sometimes claimed by political organizations, such as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) which campaigns for a better distribution of oil wealth between the regions (3). A political qualification contested by certain specialists who prefer to speak of acts of “classic” banditry. Several attacks were countered either by private guards from oil companies or by local forces. The Nigerian navy in particular was formed and trained by the US or British navies (see photo).

Note that according to the BMI, this Wednesday, September 22, an attack also took place off the “Bonny” river (at 3.49 degrees North and 6.54 degrees East). Around twenty armed pirates on board three boats stormed a crane ship. The crew locked themselves in secure accommodation. The pirates were, however, able to take a crew member hostage. The captain then called the Nigerian navy for help. The pirates later released the crew and left the ship.

Read also:
(1) The press release from the Bourbon group
(2) Piracy: “a real industry”. Atalanta expands its area of ​​action to the east
(3) We can also read a testimony from a French employee having worked in Nigeria

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).