Piracy remains a major concern for the Nigerian Navy and countries in the Gulf of Guinea.
On January 1, 2024, 9 crew members including the captain of a tanker ship traveling between Côte d’Ivoire and Cameroon were kidnapped.
After declining sharply from 2020 to 2022, piracy has begun to grow again along the coast of West and Central Africa. From Angola to Senegal, international shipping companies have reported an increase in attacks.
The International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported 21 piracy-related incidents in the Gulf of Guinea in the first nine months of 2023, compared to 14 incidents during the same period in 2022. During those attacks 54 crew members were taken hostage, 14 were kidnapped and two were injured.
In response, the Nigerian Navy has acquired ship-based drones to help monitor coastal waters.
With one of Africa’s largest blue water navies, Nigeria has taken the lead in confronting piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, a busy international shipping lane.
Every day, about 1,500 vessels transit the 11,000-square-kilometer gulf. Recent attacks on the Red Sea have pushed even more ships into the Gulf of Guinea as they travel around Africa rather than use the Suez Canal. Although attacks take place largely between Côte d’Ivoire and the Republic of the Congo, many pirates come from the islands and tidal creeks of Nigeria’s Niger Delta.
“In an era where the nature of warfare is evolving rapidly, embracing cutting-edge technologies becomes imperative for enhancing our national security,” Vice Adm. Emmanuel Ogalla, chief of naval staff (CNS), said during a recent ceremony inaugurating 12 British-made Ovation unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) by Comstrac Systems.
Ogalla said the drones will expand the Navy’s capability to support surface vessels and monitor offshore activity.
The Nigerian Navy also added other drones to its fleet in recent years. The drones provide surveillance, gather intelligence, relay communications, and carry out precision strikes on designated targets. This is part of the Navy’s anti-piracy Deep Blue Project,
Some pirates, such as those off the coast of Angola on January 3, 2024, boarded the vessel to rob it. More often, however, the goal is holding crew members for ransom.
The increase prompted the IMB to warn shipping companies in 2023 to take greater precautions while traveling through the Gulf of Guinea, which accounts for 95% of all kidnappings at sea.
“The Gulf of Guinea stands as a region of concern with a rise in reported incidents, as opposed to the downward trend we have seen in the past two years,” IMB Director Michael Howlett said in an October 2023 statement. “The IMB sees regional ownership as critical to safeguard shipping and trade and to address these crimes.”
International agencies say it is vital for Gulf of Guinea countries to confront piracy if they hope to expand their economies, curtail illegal fishing, and focus their militaries on national security.
As piracy has grown in the Gulf of Guinea, pirates have moved farther offshore, making them harder to confront in the open ocean. For the Nigerian Navy, the new drone system provides the technology to take the fight to the pirates.
The United Nations estimates that piracy in the Gulf of Guinea costs nearly $2 billion a year.