The Gulf of Guinea is a land of riches. More than 450 million inhabitants benefit from the global trading routes. Sadly, the Gulf of Guinea faces a multitude of interconnected maritime security challenges, including piracy and armed robbery, pollution, illegal fishing, smuggling, and the trafficking of arms, drugs, and persons.
Despite several security measures to curb piracy over the years, the Gulf of Guinea continues to remain a maritime security hotspot in 2021.
In its quarterly report on maritime piracy, ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported an overall decline in maritime security incidents. Nonetheless, the Gulf of Guinea still remains on the top as a piracy hotspot.
Since the beginning of 2021, 38 piracy incidents have been reported globally which is 9 incidents lesser compared to last year's report. It is quite alarming how the Gulf of Guinea accounted for 43% of all reported incidents, including armed robbery as well as hijacking. What is more, the 40 kidnapped crew and a single fatality incident took place in the Gulf of Guinea.
“Pirates operating within the Gulf of Guinea are well-equipped to attack further away from shorelines and are unafraid to take violent action against innocent crews” warns IMB Director Michael Howlett.
Later on, 11 March, a Maltese-flagged chemical tanker was attacked by pirates, 210 nautical miles south of Cotonou. 15 crew members were kidnapped in this incident. Out of a crew of 21 members, only 6 seafarers were found safe onboard who were not able to navigate the ship.
In order to combat these crimes and allow for improved economic growth and better livelihood for Africans, the nations around the Gulf of Guinea have joined hands through the Yaoundé Code of Conduct, signaling their commitment to multinational cooperation.
This is an issue that is, as is often said, transnational. As maritime space does not have a physical boundary as such, it calls upon the surrounding nations to take responsibility. Moreover, pirates do not know borders, therefore states have an obligation to cooperate.
The Yaoundé framework proposes the division of the coast into five zones, each comprising of three to five coastal countries contributing to a coordinated security effort. The framework highlights the importance of coordination and mutual trust, both within each zone and across other zones. The Yaoundé code of conduct and its zone structure is in varying stages of development. While this has been successful to some extent, more support is required to improve maritime security infrastructure and coordinate efforts across the region.