Increased piracy off Lagos

The waters off Lagos are witnessing an increase in piracy, according to the United Nations. The UN described the pirate attacks as becoming "more violent, sophisticated and systematic", with ships carrying petroleum products being the prime targets. The majority of the attacks along the west African coast over the last year have been reported off Lagos and nearby Cotonou, the capital of Benin.

Denmark-based maritime security consultants Risk Intelligence listed 34 piracy incidents off Lagos and Cotonou in 2011, up from 13 the year before. Cotonou port, which accounts for 90 per cent of Benin's trade, has recorded a 70 per cent drop in the number of ships arriving since pirate attacks took off last year, with soaring insurance rates being blamed, in addition to piracy.

Amid rising crude oil prices, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), a maritime watchdog body, has warned commercial vessels to avoid the Gulf of Guinea. Several countries in the gulf important oil produce, notably Africa's largest oil producer Nigeria and Ghana where new oil fields are now coming on stream.

The IMB has said that, in terms of incidents of piracy, Nigeria and Benin are now in the same category as Somalia, whose notorious pirates favour ransom over oil theft, and cost the world billions in security.

The UN said that the Gulf of Guinea countries need to unite in their response against piracy, and it called on leaders from west and central African countries to develop a coordinated anti-piracy strategy.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) – which has 15 member nations – predict that the Gulf of Guinea will double production from four million barrels per day to eight million barrels per day in the next decade.

The method used by hijackers operating in the gulf is to direct oil tankers to ships waiting nearby where their fuel is transferred.