Friday 1 March 2024


Calls for naval presence to protect maritime trade routes in Gulf of Guinea unlikely to succeed.



By MuziNtuli

The concentration of pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) has attracted global attention. This maritime region has taken over from the east coast of Africa as the hotbed of maritime piracy. About 40% of the recorded ship attacks in 2020 took place in this Gulf. Amongst the attacked vessels were Maersk's Cadiz and Cardiff container ships which were both attacked in a space of a month on the Nigerian coast. The incidents precipitated a joint campaign by the Danish government and the global business community, in particular the Danish shipping giant Maersk, to establish a European led military effort that will minimise this maritime threat.

On Twitter, Danish Defence Minister, Trine Bramsen wrote that these events underscore the seriousness of the threat in the maritime region and "That is why the Danish initiative to seek allied support for joint maritime operations in the area should continue. Maritime safety is important to fight for". Maersk issued a strong worded statements following these attacks on its container tanks in December 2020 and January 2021.

"It is unacceptable in this day and age that seafarers cannot perform their jobs of ensuring a vital supply chain for this region without having to worry about the risk of piracy," said Aslak Ross, head of marine standards at Copenhagen-based Maersk. "The risk has reached a level where effective military capacity needs to be deployed."

The attacks, particularly those that end with ransom demands, have serious cost burden for businesses operating shipping vessels. It was reported that, toward the end of 2020, 49 crew members had been kidnapped for ransom in GoG and held captive on land for periods of up to six weeks. Vessel companies are thus expected to fork out the required ransom. The rates of this type of crime are said to be accelerating, with more than 40 crew members kidnapped by December 2020 alone.

Maritime security expert Brian Reyes noted that ... violent attacks against vessels and their crews increased from January to June 2020, with 77 seafarers taken hostage or kidnapped. [In] GoG ... the danger for commercial shipping has increased [and accounts] for just over 90% of maritime kidnappings worldwide". A military response to maritime piracy threat will shift the cost burden away from international corporates that operate shipping vessels to taxpayers of governments willing to participate in such efforts. However, European government have not committed to a joint military intervention in GoG. Also, there are no signs that governments along the GoG are gearing up for joint operations or increasing their defence expenditure to address the problem of piracy.

Between 2015 and 2019 Togo and Gabon are the only countries in the shipping region whose defence bill as a percentage of total expenditure increased, (6.7% and 4.2% respectively) according to World Bank data. Meanwhile, Mauritania, Gabon, Republic of Congo, Angola and Namibia are the only countries on average that spent more than 9% of their total budget on defence in the same period.

Historically, maritime experts preferred military over socio-economic interventions to resolve piracy in high seas. In 2009, testifying before the United States (US) House of Representatives Committee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, Peter Chalk of the Rand Corporation, a non-profit organisation in the US, said "Piracy has traditionally been "fed" by two underlying drivers, which when taken together, have provided an almost limitless range of vulnerable targets from which to choose: the enormous volume of commercial freight that moves by sea; and the necessity of ships to pass through congested (and ambush-prone) maritime choke points such as the Panama and the Suez Canal, the Straits of Hormuz, Bab el-Mandab, Malacca and Bosphorous".

Yet a cursory glance at the data does not support such proposition. In 2019 the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) reported that commercial freight that moved via sea in 2018 increased below historical averages of 3.0 percent from 1970 - 2017 amidst threats of trade war between China and the US. Yet vessel attacks increased by 53% in 2019. Detailed empirical analysis of data further confirmed this observation.

Using a random sample of 25-year observations it was discovered that maritime piracy is negatively linked to the increase in maritime transportation of traded goods as illustrated in Graph 1.

The graph shows the negative association between the two variables, demonstrating that the rise in maritime traffic results in decline in maritime piracy not the other way around.

The inverse association can be attributed to the fact that the frequency of maritime piracy has plateaued (graph 2). Meanwhile, the presence of vessels at sea increased significantly (Graph 3). It is thus possible that other factors are responsible for the recent spike in maritime piracy. These might not necessarily require military intervention.

However, military interventions succeeded in resolving maritime piracy in the Gulf of Aden (GoA), hence they are popular. In the past five years only 13 maritime piracy cases were reported in the West Coast of Africa following a spike in second half of the 2000s. This was achieved through the creation of the Maritime Security Transit Corridor (MSTC) in which there was naval force presence for surveillance and deterrence (see figure 1).

Despite this success experts are not expecting defence expenditure to increase in the near-term due to Covid-19. "The pandemic has had a devastating impact on economies around the world, increasing poverty and unemployment and pushing more individuals towards criminal activities.

Amid plummeting global trade, shipping companies have reportedly cut down on crews and armed guards to save costs, which make vessels more vulnerable to maritime crime and exacerbating the threat to crews" noted Saif Islam, a maritime expert.

By MuziNtuli

The concentration of pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) has attracted global attention. This maritime region has taken over from the east coast of Africa as the hotbed of maritime piracy. About 40% of the recorded ship attacks in 2020 took place in this Gulf. Amongst the attacked vessels were Maersk's Cadiz and Cardiff container ships which were both attacked in a space of a month on the Nigerian coast. The incidents precipitated a joint campaign by the Danish government and the global business community, in particular the Danish shipping giant Maersk, to establish a European led military effort that will minimise this maritime threat.

On Twitter, Danish Defence Minister, Trine Bramsen wrote that these events underscore the seriousness of the threat in the maritime region and "That is why the Danish initiative to seek allied support for joint maritime operations in the area should continue. Maritime safety is important to fight for". Maersk issued a strong worded statements following these attacks on its container tanks in December 2020 and January 2021.

"It is unacceptable in this day and age that seafarers cannot perform their jobs of ensuring a vital supply chain for this region without having to worry about the risk of piracy," said Aslak Ross, head of marine standards at Copenhagen-based Maersk. "The risk has reached a level where effective military capacity needs to be deployed."

The attacks, particularly those that end with ransom demands, have serious cost burden for businesses operating shipping vessels. It was reported that, toward the end of 2020, 49 crew members had been kidnapped for ransom in GoG and held captive on land for periods of up to six weeks. Vessel companies are thus expected to fork out the required ransom. The rates of this type of crime are said to be accelerating, with more than 40 crew members kidnapped by December 2020 alone.

Maritime security expert Brian Reyes noted that ... violent attacks against vessels and their crews increased from January to June 2020, with 77 seafarers taken hostage or kidnapped. [In] GoG ... the danger for commercial shipping has increased [and accounts] for just over 90% of maritime kidnappings worldwide". A military response to maritime piracy threat will shift the cost burden away from international corporates that operate shipping vessels to taxpayers of governments willing to participate in such efforts. However, European government have not committed to a joint military intervention in GoG. Also, there are no signs that governments along the GoG are gearing up for joint operations or increasing their defence expenditure to address the problem of piracy.

Between 2015 and 2019 Togo and Gabon are the only countries in the shipping region whose defence bill as a percentage of total expenditure increased, (6.7% and 4.2% respectively) according to World Bank data. Meanwhile, Mauritania, Gabon, Republic of Congo, Angola and Namibia are the only countries on average that spent more than 9% of their total budget on defence in the same period.

Historically, maritime experts preferred military over socio-economic interventions to resolve piracy in high seas. In 2009, testifying before the United States (US) House of Representatives Committee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, Peter Chalk of the Rand Corporation, a non-profit organisation in the US, said "Piracy has traditionally been "fed" by two underlying drivers, which when taken together, have provided an almost limitless range of vulnerable targets from which to choose: the enormous volume of commercial freight that moves by sea; and the necessity of ships to pass through congested (and ambush-prone) maritime choke points such as the Panama and the Suez Canal, the Straits of Hormuz, Bab el-Mandab, Malacca and Bosphorous".

Yet a cursory glance at the data does not support such proposition. In 2019 the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) reported that commercial freight that moved via sea in 2018 increased below historical averages of 3.0 percent from 1970 - 2017 amidst threats of trade war between China and the US. Yet vessel attacks increased by 53% in 2019. Detailed empirical analysis of data further confirmed this observation.

Using a random sample of 25-year observations it was discovered that maritime piracy is negatively linked to the increase in maritime transportation of traded goods as illustrated in Graph 1.

The graph shows the negative association between the two variables, demonstrating that the rise in maritime traffic results in decline in maritime piracy not the other way around.

The inverse association can be attributed to the fact that the frequency of maritime piracy has plateaued (graph 2). Meanwhile, the presence of vessels at sea increased significantly (Graph 3). It is thus possible that other factors are responsible for the recent spike in maritime piracy. These might not necessarily require military intervention.

However, military interventions succeeded in resolving maritime piracy in the Gulf of Aden (GoA), hence they are popular. In the past five years only 13 maritime piracy cases were reported in the West Coast of Africa following a spike in second half of the 2000s. This was achieved through the creation of the Maritime Security Transit Corridor (MSTC) in which there was naval force presence for surveillance and deterrence (see figure 1).

Despite this success experts are not expecting defence expenditure to increase in the near-term due to Covid-19. "The pandemic has had a devastating impact on economies around the world, increasing poverty and unemployment and pushing more individuals towards criminal activities.

Amid plummeting global trade, shipping companies have reportedly cut down on crews and armed guards to save costs, which make vessels more vulnerable to maritime crime and exacerbating the threat to crews" noted Saif Islam, a maritime expert.


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