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Piracy and other forms of maritime crime off the East Coast of Africa have now hit their lowest figures for almost a decade. Meanwhile officials in Nigeria have been given permission to intensify security forces in their own territorial waters to crack down on piracy.

The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) has confirmed that statistics of not just African, but Global piracy have hit their lowest since 2006. The latest report states that in the first nine months of 2013 there have been 188 confirmed piracy incidents, down from 233 incidents at that point last year. Similarly there has been a significant decrease in hostage-taking incidents. 266 hostage situations were recorded this year down from 458 cases twelve months before. Somalia’s piracy rate has become notorious to many has seen a dramatic improvement in tackling the problem. Only 10 incidents of piracy occurred in the last nine months leading up to September 2013, a huge drop from the 70 incidents that occurred within the same period the previous year.

However whilst the lowering figures are a good reminder of the work being done by African government forces and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) over the last three years officials have still warned of the very real danger of piracy still present in these waters. They warn that while there has been a significant decrease in incidents in territorial waters in Africa there are still a consistent number of incidents of piracy and hostage situations, particularly off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Guinea.

IMB Director Pottengal Mukundan has praised the efforts of the Navies of different countries currently patrolling and neutralizing piracy threats around Africa’s coastlines and territorial waters. He has also said however that due to the continued incidents that still occur, any vessels travelling in these regions must still remain on high alert.

Mr Mukundan said that: – “Although the number of attacks is down overall, the threat of attacks remains, particularly in the waters off Somalia and in the Gulf of Guinea. It is vital that ship masters continue to be vigilant as they transit these waters.”
“The vital role of the navies off the coast of Somalia should not be underestimated. Their presence ensures that pirates do not operate with the impunity they did before,”
In the wake of these results a lot of attention has been on Nigeria whose shores lie in the heart of a region that has been riddled by piracy and violent maritime crime for many decades. The continued efforts of their naval forces in the region are the subject of much of the praise from Mr Mukundan due to their combined efforts to fight piracy around Somalia and the Gulf of Aden with Somalia naval forces and Benin naval forces in the piracy hotspot in the Gulf of Guinea.

Nigerian Minister for Transport Senator Idris Umar has recently reiterated that the intent from Nigerian forces and government officials remains strong. He says that such strength is only going to grow due to the positive outcome that the recent IMB statistics have shown.

With much piracy in the region often passing through Nigerian territorial waters, Senator Umar has been quick to state that such efforts being made to tackle piracy are in the interests of the Nigerian people and to regain their confidence in resolving a problem that has plagued the country for many years. As part of their continuing efforts, Senator Umar has stated that the Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) will take full control over all matters relating to piracy and maritime crime: –
“In terms of maritime safety and security, Nigeria has appointed NIMASA as the designated authority (DA) to coordinate the implementation of the International Ship and Port Security Code (ISPS Code)”.

The on-going efforts and co-operation between neighboring nations has quit clearly been the key in bringing about the positive turnaround in Africa’s battle against international piracy, a problem that has blighted so much trade and commerce that passes around Africa’s shorelines for decades. As I have mentioned on so many occasions in articles such as this the major component that is sometimes missing in these efforts against large-scale problems facing Africa has been the lack of communication and unification of efforts to neutralize each aspect of the issues that challenge them.

No-one is naïve to the idea that the positive outcome of these efforts against piracy has eliminated the problem entirely. Maritime crime is still a prominent and very real threat that still occurs. However the results shown by IMB are just some of the reminders of what can be achieved when co-operation comes about in a collective effort to eradicate international issues.

BY: ROBERT PRITCHARD