The Gulf of Guinea: Maritime Piracy’s New Global Nerve Center

Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea could dwarf everything the world has seen in Somalia.

Maritime piracy off the coast of West Africa has replaced Somalia as the most prevalent region for a maritime attack. In fact, Nigeria alone saw a threefold increase from 2011 to 2012, according to the International Maritime Bureau Report. 

The increased numbers of these attacks have transformed piracy on the West African coast, from isolated incidents in the Nigerian Niger Delta to a regional epidemic. The Niger Delta of Nigeria plays an important role in the lifecycle of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.

It is a region engulfed by a decades-old asymmetric conflict between insurgents, the Nigerian state, and oil corporations. The combination of economic destitution and political disenfranchisement by the Nigerian government ignited an uprising by the people of the Niger Delta, claiming autonomy and control of its oil resources.

Early attempts to sabotage Western oil companies and take over the oil fields involved tapping pipelines and selling the oil on the black market. Gradually through internal strife and an increasing involvement of the Nigerian state, groups such as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and the later Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPV) became increasingly involved in criminal and terrorist activities, expanding their operations gradually from the Niger River Delta coasts all the way in 2008 to Shell’s Bonga Field, 75 miles off-shore.

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