Nigeria, UNODC rally multi-national efforts to thwart Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea

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….As West Africa loses $2.3 billion to Maritime Crimes in Three Years

By Chika Onyesi

The total economic cost of piracy in West Africa has been estimated as $777.1 million annually between 2015 and 2017 in addition to the human costs.

A statement signed by the Outreach and Communications Officer of UNODC Nigeria, Mr. Sylvester Atere, disclosed that the Gulf of Guinea experienced an escalation of piracy, kidnapping and armed robbery at sea incidents in recent years.

Meanwhile a 2018 report said attacks in the region more than doubled in 2018, accounting for all six hijackings worldwide, 13 of the 18 ships fired upon, 130 of the 141 hostages taken globally, and 78 of 83 seafarers kidnapped for ransom.

The report also revealed that the last three months of 2018 saw 41 kidnappings in waters off Nigeria alone.

In October 2018, 11 crew members were kidnapped from a container vessel 70 nautical miles off Bonny Island, Nigeria.

It said two days after the kidnap of crew members, a pirate speedboat also hijacked a tanker underway 100 nautical miles off Point Noire, Congo, while another eight of the 18 crew members were kidnapped.

The developments reveals how armed criminals now reach out further to sea, target a wider variety of ships: bulk carriers, container vessels and general cargo vessels in addition to local attacks on tankers, oil industry support vessels and fishing vessels.

The UNODC says the ‘‘economic effects on countries like Nigeria and its trading partners are especially burdensome’’.

Nigeria had participated in a multi-national maritime exercise sponsored by the United States Military Africa Command (AFRICOM) tagged Exercise Obangame Express.

The maritime exercise was aimed at further training of personnel on measures to enhance safety against pirates and improve monitoring of the coastline.

The training which witnessed deployment of 2,500 personnel, 95 ships and 12 aircraft was aimed at improving regional cooperation, maritime domain awareness, information-sharing practices and tactical interdiction expertise to enhance the collective capabilities of the Gulf of Guinea and West African nations to counter sea-based illicit activities.

The UNODC, in cooperation with Interpol and the support of the US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), developed simulated trials using the Obangame maritime exercise as a platform for training prosecutors and investigators in handling the piracy and maritime crime scenarios played at sea during the exercise.

‘‘In April, UNODC and INTERPOL organised in Lagos the first of the series of simulated trials, using aspects of the piracy bill currently under consideration by the Nigerian national Assembly’’.

‘‘The simulated trials were based on arrests and evidence collected from the Obangame exercise and involved the cross examination of expert witnesses by a prosecuting and defence team with a presiding Judge of the Federal High Court. Interpol cooperated in building the simulated trial through preparing all witnesses for cross examination’’.

Commenting on the simulated trial, Mr. Yusuf Abdulkadir, a senior prosecutor and head of the Maritime Crime Group in the Federal Department of Public Prosecution, remarked that “the simulated trial has created an avenue for prosecutors and investigators to test-run the draft piracy bill and see the possible challenges that could come up with operationalizing the bill when it is finally passed into law.”

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has been working with the Nigerian Authorities and other international partners already since 2015 to stave off the threat of piracy and maritime crime in Nigeria through capacity building, fostering interagency cooperation and strengthening the legal and policy framework.

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