West Africa: piracy’s new frontier?

News is emerging that an oil tanker has been hijacked off the Nigerian coast. This appears to be part of a growing trend, and one that was predicted in these pages four years ago (even a blind pig sometimes finds a truffle). Back in December 2008 I wrote of the attractions of West Africa as a venue for piracy, suggesting that its coast ‘has many of the elements that make Somalia a good spot for a bit of buccaneering – rank poverty, lots of underemployed young men, unstable governments, endemic corruption and favourable geography.’ If ships start going the long way round the Horn of Africa to avoid the East African coast, I added, ‘they might be in for a nasty surprise when they reach the opposite side of the continent.’

A few months later I posted this map published by the International Maritime Bureau, showing the global distribution of pirate attacks in the first part of 2009:

You need only compare this with the IMB’s latest 2012 map to see how rapidly the industry has expanded in West Africa: