West Africa Pirates Seen Threatening Oil and Shipping for Years

July 23, 2013 by Isaac Arnsdorf

West African pirates will threaten the region’s oil and shipping industries for years as the measures used to curb attacks in the Indian Ocean aren’t able to help, according to a provider of armed guards for vessels.

While international navies and private security are repelling attacks off the Somali coast, guards can’t carry weapons into ports in West Africa, said Barry Roche, chief executive officer of Protection Group International, the parent company of the largest security service in the Indian Ocean, but with only an advisory role in West Africa. Attacks are more violent because the West African pirates have machine guns and focus on stealing cargoes instead of taking hostages, he said.

“It would be like trying to compare the Iraq conflict with the Afghanistan conflict,” Roche said in a phone interview. “The geographic and political situation in the area makes it much more difficult to operate the model that’s been employed successfully in the Indian Ocean. There need to be changes in governmental thinking.”

The escalating threat will probably last for years and may inhibit the region’s oil exports, Roche said. West Africa shipped about 10 percent of the world’s crude last year, the most after the Middle East and the former Soviet Union, according to figures from London-based BP Plc.

West African piracy overtook Somali attacks as the greatest threat to crews of merchant ships for the first time in 2012, according to organizations including the International Maritime Bureau.

Incidents involving Somali pirates plunged to eight in the first half of 2013 from 69 a year earlier, according to the IMB, which monitors sea crime from London. Pirates operating in the Gulf of Guinea kidnapped 30 crew in the period, compared with three seized worldwide in the first six months of 2012, the group said in a July 15 report.

Code of Conduct
Representatives from 22 nations in western and central Africa signed a code of conduct last month on preventing piracy, according to a June 26 statement on the website of the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization. The agreement will help curb attacks, the IMB said.

About 42,250 vessels a year, including 20 percent of trade in crude oil, navigate the area where Somali pirates operate, costing the global economy about $6 billion in 2012. About 50 percent of ships in the region use private armed guards, up from 30 percent in 2011, according to an April report from Oceans Beyond Piracy, a project of the Broomfield, Colorado-based One Earth Future Foundation.

–Editors: Dan Weeks, John Deane.

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