By: Daniel Nonor
THE RECURRENT pirate activities in the Gulf of Guinea and the increasing threat of terrorism in neighbouring Nigeria has raised grave security concerns to oil shipments in the West African sub-region and these are invariably too close for comfort to Ghana's oil installations.
Target countries of these pirate activities over the period have been those off the coast of the Gulf of Guinea such as Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo and Gabon among others.
In February 2012 alone, reports had it that, eight oil tankers were hijacked in the Gulf of Guinea, off the coasts of Nigeria, Benin and Cameroon; a number that almost doubled attacks from the previous month.
The International Maritime Organization also reported 45 incidents of piracy in 7 countries that boarder the Gulf of Guinea since the beginning of the year 2012. Last year, the numbers rose to 64 incidents in 9 countries. In the first 2 months of this year, the IMO recorded 10 incidents.
The complexity of the modus operandi of pirate activities in the Gulf of Guinea has made it very difficult to trace hijackings and where they offload their ransom. It is widely believed that transnational mafia groups could be funding these operations and are known to have extensive intelligence capabilities.
In Nigeria, the dreaded Militants of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) are using the Gulf of Guinea piracy to raise the stakes for pushing the Nigerian government to meet their resource and revenue demands.
Experts say the Nigerian government's seemingly inability to adequately address issues in the Niger Delta and in the north, where Boko Haram operates, will hinder progress on the anti-piracy front, while attacks could also increase on expectations over new oil finds off the coasts of Liberia and Sierra Leone http://www.voanews.com/english/news/africa/Liberians-Cautiously-Optimistic-About-Oil-Prospects-142366655.html . http://news.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=8424884
the threat posed to the security and economic development of States in the region according to a top United Nations official, needs effective strategy if countries are to successfully combat the menace .
'Gulf of Guinea countries need a united front in order to respond to effectively to the growing threat of piracy along their coasts. Isolated national initiatives are only temporarily, at best, pushing the pirates to shift their criminal operations from one country to the next,' B. Lynn Pascoe, Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said in a briefing http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2012/sc10558.doc.htm to the Security Council.
He told the 15-member body that piracy and armed robbery against ships increasingly undermine efforts by States in the Gulf of Guinea region to maintain peace, security and stability and to promote socio-economic development. The threat has become even more alarming as the pirates have become more violent.
Last November Secretary-General http://www.un.org/sg/ Ban Ki-moon deployed a team - in response to a request from President Boni Yayi of Benin ,to assess the scope of the piracy threat in the Gulf of Guinea and make recommendations for possible UN support in tackling the menace
The mission found that piracy in the region has become more systematic, with the pirates resorting to sophisticated modes of operations and utilizing heavy weapons, Mr. Pascoe reported to the Council, adding that so far, the attacks have primarily targeted the lucrative cargo onboard the ships rather than taking hostages for ransom.
He stated that piracy in the Gulf of Guinea hampers efforts by regional States to engage in peaceful international commerce and to exploit their vast natural resources for the socio-economic development of their countries. Recent reports have suggested for instance that Nigeria is losing an estimated seven per cent of its oil resources to criminal activities, including piracy.
While welcoming the support provided by members of the international community to Gulf of Guinea countries to strengthen their maritime security capacities, he stressed the need to do more in the face of the deepening threat. Significant logistical support is required, in particular, to bolster national and regional maritime capacities, he noted.
Representing the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Political Director Abdel-Fatau Musah said that piracy is a regional challenge requiring a regional maritime security architecture into which national and bilateral initiatives would dovetail. It is also dictated by regional challenges such as lack of financial and technical capacity and duplication of efforts owing to the lack of a coordination mechanism.
'Going forward, therefore, while encouraging the continuation of ongoing limited initiatives, ECOWAS urges all the parties concerned to scale up efforts, beginning with the proposed multilateral forum, to develop a more comprehensive framework involving all the parties concerned to ensure a holistic approach to maritime security, in close cooperation with the UN,' he stated.
Certainly these developments in our back yard cal for concern especially when Ghana has just began producing oil in commercial quantities.
To this effect, The Ghana Navy took delivery of four new patrol ships as part of efforts to boost the naval fleet for fishery controls and the protection of the country's maritime boundaries.
H.E. President J.E.A. Mills at the commissioning of Ghana navy ships (blika, garinga, chemle & ehwor) at the naval base, Sekondi, reiterated the fact that 'With the increasing incidents of piracy and other related maritime crimes, we have no option than to equip our Navy to be able to guarantee a secure environment where all legitimate entities can operate freely without hindrance.'
The president also mentioned other threats such as drug trafficking, arms smuggling, dumping of toxic waste, illegal bunkering, illegal fishing, and pair trawling as problems that the country had had to brace up against and nip in the mud.
'the investment in re-equipping the Navy and other security agencies should be viewed as a means of sustaining the atmosphere of peace and security needed for the development of other sectors.
'As Commander-in-Chief,and as I stay committed to building a Better Ghana, I will not relent in my efforts to fully equip the Ghana Armed Forces and other security agencies to enable our men and women in uniform derive maximum satisfaction from their chosen fields of engagement.' The President Affirmed.
It however did not take too long to realize the usefulness and timeliness of these vessels when in March a foreign Vessel, Merchant Tanker, MADINA was arrested by the navy in Ghana's territorial waters. The vessel loaded with fuel was reported to have been stolen from Nigeria after the Ghana Navy received hint from its Nigerian counterparts about the vessel and zoomed in to make the arrest.
Director of Public Relations at the Ghana Armed Forces, Colonel M'Bawine Atintande explained that the vessel, MT MADINA was arrested at the Saltpond oil fields where it was transferring fuel to another vessel.
Dr Kwesi Aning, a security expert at the Kofi Annan Peace Keeping Training Center, has warned that there could be pirate attacks on vessels carrying Ghana's oil, if authorities downplay early signs of their operations on the country's territorial waters.
Dr Aning's concern stem from the GNPC's denial of a VOA report http://news.myjoyonline.com/business/201107/69525.asp that about 10 suspected pirates have hijacked a vessel carrying crude oil from Ghana.
According to him, the Gulf of Guinea, aside the Gulf of Aden, has been made dangerous due to the activities of the pirates, which, he said, are gradually rising from 2006, particularly at the coasts of Cote d'Ivoire and Nigeria.
'We need much more consistent study on the strategies, the groups, their modes of attack, their weaponry to be able to design the response mechanisms that we need. Unfortunately, I think, there is a certain unwillingness to accept that this is going to be a growing trend, therefore, we need to start designing the response mechanisms.'
It is however evident that pirate threats to Ghana's oil are real and needs pragmatic efforts to protect her best hope of turning her economy around.