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:
Last December I wrote about a Somali pirate’s justification for his choice of career. A former fisherman, like many of his countrymen, his main gripe was with foreign fishing vessels which overfished Somali waters and bulldozed local boats out of their way.
Well it turns out that now, thanks to the pirates, fish stocks off the Somali coast have recovered. The greedy foreign piscatorial plunderers have been scared off, leaving locals to haul in bumper catches. Now that his justification for piracy has been removed, I wonder if our pirate friend will go back to his fishing rod.
Update: On the other side of Africa, Guinea-Bissau is clamping down on foreign fishing vessels too, but so far in a less swashbuckling way than the Somalis. The tiny West African country’s government has had a trawlerful of Spanish fishermen in custody for the last two weeks (which given the flimsy state of Guinea-Bissau’s navy and its complete absence of prisons is no mean feat). Apparently, the Spaniards are “losing patience.” Should have kept to your quotas then, shouldn’t you?
The piracy saga in the Indian Ocean has taken a nasty turn, as France’s new Napoleon, Nicolas Sarkozy, has decided capital punishment is the best way of dealing with Somali bandits in the region. French commandos shot dead two pirates as they attempted to rescue a young French yachtsman and his family. It looks likely that they also killed the yachtsman. Then, on Sunday, the US killed a further three pirates as they successfully rescued a captured ship’s captain.
Until now, the pirates have treated their hostages fairly well – possibly because ransoms have usually been paid – but if they decide to fight fire with fire their activities could become more violent. Indeed, hardline Islamists in Somalia have already vowed revenge for the killings, and another pirate who’s holding some Greek captives (over 230 hostages are being held by various pirates) warned:
Every country will be treated the way it treats us. In the future, America will be the one mourning and crying. We will retaliate [for] the killings of our men.