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Urgent need for global and regional cooperation to fight piracy in the Gulf of Guinea

17 Jun 2019
Photo: Courtesy of Officer of the Watch
When piracy or armed robbery happen at sea, seafarers are on the frontline, at risk of being injured, assaulted, taken hostage or killed. Attacks have increased dramatically impacting thousands of seafarers and their families who fall victim and suffer at the hands of pirates.

In the Gulf of Guinea, piracy and armed robbery have been long-standing problems, but in recent years the frequency of attacks is increasing in this region. The severity of this issue and the treatment of the crews is worsening, with ruthless and inhumane acts of violence. This is compounded by the difficult international regulatory environment, where prosecuting these violent crimes is complicated by misunderstanding over the limits to sovereignty of each country in the Gulf of Guinea.

On 4 June 2019, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO), International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF) held a Symposium on Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, at the headquarters of International Maritime Organisation (IMO). Governments, experts and industry stakeholders attended to address the human and economic impact of piracy and armed robbery, and discuss possible solutions to the current crisis.

The organisers invited a seafarer, who was held captive for more than three weeks in a recent attack, to detail first-hand the dangers to seafarers and the terrifying experience that he and the crew went through.

He explained the sophistication of the attack as well as the anxiety and apprehension that crew onboard undergo when entering and passing through the Gulf of Guinea.

Branko Berlan, ITF accredited representative to the IMO, highlighted the human toll of the escalating attacks to seafarers’ physical and mental health, and that governments, industry and seafarers’ welfare organisations must consider the lasting impact of trauma and post-traumatic stress symptoms.

Concerns were also raised about the consistency of international guidelines, regional cooperation, and the understanding and attention given to social-economic drivers of such crimes.

Berlan called for “these unacceptable criminal activities have to stop immediately,” and urged for the shipping industry, governments and unions to work collaboratively to combat the lack of information sharing that is hindering action to eliminate piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.

“The ITF, together with governments and industry partners, are willing to take action when we have available information. We have to work together, and the ITF would like to stress the urgent need to develop a more robust communication system and designate a responsible person or contact point in each country across the region to improve prevention, reporting and response to attacks,” he said.

The IMO Maritime Safety Committee also highlighted the urgent need for global and regional cooperation to fight piracy and armed robbery in this region in its 101st session on 11 June 2019.

Governments as well as the IMO secretariat presented progress from actions to tackle piracy and armed robbery in the region including national naval efforts, and updates on the international reporting platforms and global cooperation programme.

For more information see the summary and recommendations from the Symposium on Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.

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