The Gulf of Guinea: hunting ground for pirates
The Gulf of Guinea, where a tanker with 17 Georgian sailors aboard has been missing for a week, has in recent years become the epicentre of maritime piracy in Africa.
The siphoning of oil from hijacked cargo ships, illegal fishing, trafficking of all kinds: the 5,700-kilometre (3,541-mile) coastal zone stretching from Senegal to Angola is a happy hunting group for pirates.
It has upstaged the Gulf of Aden, where once rampant piracy has considerably diminished faced with the deployment of an international military armada.
During the first half of 2018, the crews of six ships were kidnapped by pirates around the world, all in the Gulf of Guinea, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), in a report published in late July.
In 2017, out of 16 incidents around the world in which ships came under gunfire, seven were listed in the Gulf of Guinea. Ten hostage-takings involving a total of 65 crew members were perpetrated last year in the waters off Nigeria.
Pirates operating off Nigeria, Togo and Benin are usually well-armed and violent. They sometimes hijack ships for several days, long enough to loot the holds, knocking around the crews, who are less and less willing to sail in these waters. Others release them after a ransom is paid.
In February, an oil tanker flying the flag of Panama, with 22 Indian sailors and 13,500 tonnes of fuel aboard, was held in such conditions for five days by pirates off Benin, before being released with its crew and its cargo.
Piracy in the Gulf, home to Sub-Saharan Africa's two main oil producers Nigeria and Angola, has seriously disrupted this international shipping route and cost the global economy billions of dollars.
The 17 countries in the region, whose surveillance and maritime defence capabilities are limited and disparate, have been trying for several years to bolster their means of intervention and to put in place a closer regional collaboration, with the help of the United States and France.