Gunmen attack ship in Gabon

At approximately 0005 hrs local time on Sunday, 05 September 2021, St Kitts and Nevis flagged offshore supply vessel MV Tampen, IMO number 9276896, was boarded by four men armed with AK-47 assault rifles close to the Owendo Anchorage in Gabon.  The vessel had sought refuge in the anchorage when it suffered a severe technical problem in its propulsion system.  The fault emerged almost as soon as the vessel sailed from Limbe in Cameroon on 26 August.  By 28 August, the Master and company decided the vessel should sail to a nearby anchorage to facilitate repairs to the system.  The vessel arrived at Owendo on 31 August having made just 4 knots during its transit which was intended to end in Dubai.

At the time of the attack, the vessel was anchored in approximate position 0°18’12″N, 009°24’9″E, at the edge of the anchorage. The vessel has 17 Crew members, all Indian.

The attackers were able to board the vessel undetected from a small boat using an aluminium ladder.  The ladder had a crude hook tied onto it that had been fashioned from the fork in a tree branch.  The attackers immediately seized a seaman and demanded to know the location of the Duty Officer.  The seaman managed to mislead them, but they found the crew accommodation unlocked and entered.  Three crew members, the Chief Officer, the Second Officer, and the Chief Cook were dragged to the rear deck, apparently with the intention of kidnapping them.  The Chief Officer and the Chief Cook resisted and attempted to escape.  The pirates shot them several times, wounding both.  The Second officer was reportedly thrown over the side of the vessel.   Reports variously state that he was thrown into a waiting boat or into the sea.  His whereabouts remain unknown at the time of writing.

The remaining crew, including the two with gunshot wounds, managed to secure the accommodation areas during the confusion around the rear deck and they proceeded to raise the alarm.  They also proceeded to give first aid to the injured crew members.

They first called their company office in India at 0105 hrs local time using WhatsApp.

At 0241 hrs local time, the crew was able to raise the port agent.  He confirmed that he would inform the port authority and the security forces.

At 0254 hrs local time, the port agent confirmed that the Harbour Master, Marine Merchant, and the Army had been contacted.

At 0345 hrs local time, the agent confirmed that a security boat and medical assistance had departed the port.

At 0530 hrs local time security boats and medical assistance arrived onboard.  The security operatives first searched the vessel before confirming that the pirates had escaped.  Local authorities mounted a search for the missing crew member.

The Master, Chief Engineer, and one more crew member were called by the port authority for investigation and statements.

Security guards were posted on board the vessel, however, anecdotal information from crew members indicates that they are poorly equipped, having only a knife and an “old gun”.

The injured crew members were evacuated to a hospital ashore where they underwent surgery and are now in post-operative recovery.

The company informed the next of kin of crew members but neither the company nor the family of the missing crew member has received any ransom call at the time of writing this report.

Factors affecting the vessels security:

The MV Tampen was transiting at a speed of just four knots for several days before it reached Owendo.  The fact that it was able to reach Owendo and remain there for a further five days before being attacked suggests that the attack was coordinated/facilitated by local actors in Owendo rather than a pirate action group (PAG) at sea.  However, the attack bears some characteristics of a Bayelsa-based group.  It is possible that this group was located elsewhere along the coast and did not detect the crippled vessel as she sailed to Owendo.  It is known that Nigerian pirates use contacts in the Nigeria diaspora in coastal communities along the length of the Gulf of Guinea coast.  Therefore, it is possible that the attack was a collaboration between local actors, possibly including persons who had been involved in supporting the repair work and a roving PAG that was within reach of Owendo.

It was reported that the crew did not detect the approach of the attackers’ boat.  This indicates that there was no deck watch in place and no effective radar watch.

The crew accommodation was not secured and it is likely the crew might have felt that Gabon and Owendo were safe and thus low-risk locations.  This is only the second recorded incident in Gabonese waters this year and the first kidnapping in the region for at least 3 months.  The vessel’s security posture indicates either a lack of awareness or complacency on the part of the crew.

The levels of violence escalated rapidly and dramatically when members of the crew resisted and attempted to escape the attackers.


This is the second recorded incident in Gabonese waters this year.  The previous incident occurred on Sunday 07 February, when Gabon flagged, Chinese tuna fishing boat, FV Lian Peng Yu 809 was hijacked approximately 120nm SSE of Ana Chaves using high-speed boats off the Gabonese port of Port-Gentil and the crew – six Chinese nationals, three Indonesians, a Gabon national and four Nigerians – were kidnapped.

The boat, with the crew still on board, was later spotted some 110km (68 miles) from the Nigerian island of Bonny on 08 February where it was being used as a mother ship from which to mount attacks on commercial shipping (2 x tankers) with the kidnapped crew still on board.  The crew was released on 06 March after a ransom of $300,000 was paid according to the Nigerian Army.

Several other attacks occurred in nearby Sao Tome waters in the first two months of this year.


All vessels operating in the Gulf of Guinea should adopt the appropriate security posture as laid down in International Ship and Port Facilities Security (ISPS)Code and Best Management Practice 5 (BMP5).

All vessels entering ports in the Gulf of Guinea region should request an up-to-date port threat assessment from their Company Security Officer (CSO) before entering the port.

All crews should be trained and exercised in how to react to boarding and how to conduct themselves in captivity and subsequent release operations.

All vessels should keep crew accommodation secure at all times when in ports, with a single point of entry protected by a door watch.  All crew should be drilled in how to reach the citadel area in an emergency when at anchor, when berthed, and when sailing. Piracy drills and ship security assessments are one of the range of services our RMCs (Risk Management Consultants) carry out when onboard our clients’ vessels. You can view our range of maritime services here

All vessels operating in the region must ensure that at least one means of communication allows that the relevant CSO and other emergency contacts can be reached at ALL times.


  1. Closed company sources in the shipping and insurance industry
  2. malayali-crew-kannur-ship-cargo-pirates.html
  3. Marine Traffic
  4. MV Tampen attacked by pirates

#AreteQuarterly – Top 7 threats to Nigeria’s security

The Security Risk Spectrum in Nigeria

Following a recent article by the BBC on the top 5 threats currently facing Nigeria, we have given our on-the-ground view in this article. We will be publishing articles such as this quarterly. Over the last 3 months, we have touched on some of these potential threats already, but in this first #AreteQuarterly we look in even more detail at how these tie together due to common causes, how this could affect travellers or employees in different regions and what you can do to ensure you and your colleagues stay safe.

Nigeria is a large country with the largest population in Africa.  Despite the fact that it is the largest economy in Africa, unemployment runs at 32.5%[1] and poverty is widespread through much of the country[2], which if measured against the World Bank’s income poverty threshold of $3.20 per day means 71% of the population is living below the poverty line.  These conditions of severe economic hardship generate social stresses that may be pushing people into criminality out of necessity, i.e. they end up committing crime out of need, not greed.

It is important to understand that criminality in Nigeria is dynamic and diverse. No single area of the country – even down to local government areas – presents a homogenous map of criminality.   Groups emerge and fade away almost on a weekly basis.  They might operate on a very localised basis or, in the case of the more organised crime groups, across administrative boundary lines.  Criminal groups are territorial and will fight one another for control of the areas with the richest pickings.

There are also established linkages between various social groupings and crime, with organisations such as the National Union of Road Transport Workers and the numerous confraternities being regularly linked to various criminal activities.  Corruption and nepotism also facilitate crime, creating a permissive environment where criminals operate under the umbrella of their patrons who provide the ‘top-cover’ that protects gangs from the forces of law and emboldens them.

The final factor that contributes to high levels of insecurity is the massive overstretch and under-resourcing of the police and other law-enforcement agencies.  The security agencies strive to bring criminals to court but are often frustrated when the judicial system appears unable to convict or to award punitive sentences that would deter others.

Geographically, the areas of highest risk – those with the greatest number of reported incidents – are the north-western states of Kaduna, Niger, Zamfara and Katsina, where banditry and kidnapping are the principal threats.  Borno State in the north-east still suffers a high number of security incidents, with at least 95 major incidents reported in 2021 to date, the vast majority of which are terrorist in nature.  The Niger Delta region is the next most predated area of the country, with Imo, Delta, Edo and Rivers the most affected.  The commercial capital of the country, Lagos, suffers a lower but steady rate of criminality.  Ikorodu Local Government Area is the most lethal part of the state.

It is instructive to look at various aspects of the risk spectrum individually, as they morph continually and present the security forces with an ever moving and changing target array.  However, it must also be stressed that figures quoted by all sources are incomplete as many incidents go unreported.


The jihadist insurgency in north-east Nigeria has seen several evolutions since the inception of Boko Haram in 2002.  The almost two decades since then have seen the Islamist group fade after its original leader died in police custody in 2009.  However, it bounced back with increased capability and capacity in 2012, following which it captured and controlled most of Borno State and adjacent areas of neighbouring states, forming the caliphate that Boko Haram aspires to.  That resurgence saw the group fracture into smaller groups, including Ansaru, which evolved into the Islamic State in the West African Province.  Currently, Boko Haram is undergoing another split following the killing of its leader, Abubakar Shekau, in a suicide bombing attack in May 2021.

The insurgency has displaced more than 2.3 million Nigerians, triggering a humanitarian crisis and a worsening case of food poverty that impacts beyond the areas immediately affected by the insurgency.

The various groups have different aims – the core of Boko Haram wants a unitary Islamic state in Nigeria with assimilation of territory in neighbouring nations.  ISWAP has a broader Islamist agenda that aims to create a much larger Islamic caliphate across the Sahel and sub-Sahelian regions of West and Central Africa.  Both these major groups use classic insurgency tactics of attacks on security forces, intimidation of the local population, extortion and kidnap for ransom to raise funds and also imposition of levies/taxes on local communities.  Foreigners, particularly westerners, are prime targets for abduction and murder, with international aid organisations also targeted in an effort to hinder their operations and prop up the local population’s dependency on the ‘benevolence’ of the jihadis.

While the government security forces continually claim to have defeated Boko Haram, the insurgency persists.  Furthermore, while it is true Boko Haram may be losing some of their influence (there are credible reports of hundreds of fighters surrendering in recent weeks), their hard-core members will likely have aligned with ISWAP and will continue the fight.  ISWAP will likely continue to focus on attacking security forces and international targets, with the latter requiring robust security packages and a healthy philosophy towards risk acceptance in order to continue to operate in North-eastern Nigeria.


Numerous commentators have linked the jihadism with the perennial conflict between pastoralist Fulani herdsman and arable farming communities.  There are some shared characteristics, but the herdsmen are simply perpetuating a behaviour that is almost as old as the grasslands they graze.  The migratory herds follow the grass, encroaching further south as the dry season progresses.  It is an eternal dynamic that is found throughout the Sahel and sub-Sahelian regions of West, Central and East Africa.  Whilst it is technically wrong to classify these groups as terrorists, the nature of some of their attacks are almost identical to those of true terrorist groups that follow a political or faith-based goal.

Other bandit groups are prolific in the north-west of the country, specifically in Kaduna, Niger, Zamfara and Katsina States.  Several arterial routes through this region present extremely high levels of risk for travellers including the commercially vital route between Abuja and Kaduna.

Bandit groups operate illegal roadblocks and checkpoints from where they conduct robbery operations and opportunistic kidnappings of people perceived to be of wealth or high status.  This type of activity presents a particular threat to business travellers unless they travel with a large, heavily armed escort team.  Thus, air travel is preferred and the advised means of travel in this part of the country.  Other bandit tactics include raids on rural communities where they conduct looting and mass kidnapping operations.  This presents a lower level of threat for international employees/travellers, but can impact on workforces for agricultural, power and mining projects led by international companies.


The “kidnapping industry” in Nigeria has expanded massively in the last 6 years.  Previously a significant threat in the Niger Delta and, to a lesser extent Lagos, kidnapping is now widespread and common throughout the country, with the rate of incidents and the number of victims per incident constantly increasing.   Geographically, the North-West, North-East and Niger Delta are the most prolific areas for kidnapping, with the highest numbers occurring in the North-West.  The raison d’etre behind the kidnapping threat also varies according to location and group.   In the South-South, most groups are driven purely by pecuniary considerations.  They tend to operate as closed groups, with the entire operation carried out from within a small circle of knowledge and using established infrastructure and methodologies.  Kidnappings in the South-South and other parts of the southern half of the country tend to be more targeted and organised, with the gangs conducting relatively sophisticated reconnaissance and pattern of life studies before the snatch occurs.

In the North-West, by comparison, the attackers are more likely to be loose groupings of bandits who sometimes will carry out only part of the operation – some snatching the victims, others holding them and others conducting the ransom dialogue.  Often in the north of the country, schools are targeted in mass-kidnapping events.  This is probably driven by an economy of effort and the knowledge that the pupils will mostly come from privileged families who have money.  Young women and girls are vulnerable to forced marriage in such instances.

Currently, the kidnapping graphs are all showing steep increases across the country and will remain a major threat to personnel for the foreseeable future.  This is unlikely to change, even in the face of an increasing number of states adopting the death penalty of kidnappers.

Kidnapping presents a significant threat to international employees, indigenous executives and notable persons within society.  For those who fall into these groups, consideration should be given to the use of private security and armed protection teams.  This must be accompanied by a thorough understanding of the threat, up to date intelligence and a high level of application of personal security best practices.


The South-East is gripped by a separatist crisis generated by the Indigenous people of Biafra (IPOB), whose aim is to create an autonomous or independent state of Biafra (see our previous article here).  The aim is widely supported among the Igbo people of the region, but that support is far from universal, with many feeling that IPOPB attracts unwanted attention from the security forces who interfere with normal commercial life and rhythms of society in the region.  Imo State is the most affected by the separatism, with Orlu Local Government Area becoming the epicentre of attacks by the so-called ‘unknown gunmen’ and reprisal operations mounted by the security forces.

This challenge does not target international personnel directly, but the risk of being in the wrong place at the wrong time is significant in such a high tempo environment.

It is likely that the separatists will step up their attacks while the leader of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu, remains in custody (link to our previous article).  If Kanu is convicted and jailed, they will mount a campaign to keep his name in the media spotlight and also increase their attacks on security forces as they attempt to demonstrate their resilience and determination to achieve their aims.

In the South-West, the nascent Yoruba Nation movement, led by Sunday Adeyemo, known as Igboho after his place of birth, is gaining attention following the arrest of Adeyemo and his ongoing detention in Benin Republic.  He has a history of agitation and involvement in disorder going back to 1997 and there is a strong streak of ethnic bigotry and Yoruba supremacy running through his rhetoric and previous actions.  The Yoruba Nation is agitating for an independent Yoruba state in the South-west which will see it control the commercial hub of Lagos and major international trading routes along the West African littoral.

It is likely that the Yoruba Nation will continue to agitate through the medium of protests and rallies rather than take up arms as IPOB has in the east.  These activities are unlikely to present a direct threat to international personnel or operations, but the ethno-nationalist tendency in their manifesto could lead to localised violence against indigenous employees from other tribes and ethnic groups.

Oil Militancy

Oil militancy emerged in the Niger Delta in 2006.  An armed insurgency carried out primarily by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) saw oil exports and revenues more than halved during the three-year campaign that led to the October 2009 Presidential Amnesty Program.  The insurgency was by no means homogenous, with numerous groups that affiliated with the MEND and in some cases which competed and clashed with MEND.

Following the amnesty, and the retirement (or deaths in some cases) of most of the major militant leaders, there followed a period of relative stability until 2016, when the Niger Delta Avengers burst onto the scene with a series of high profile and high impact attacks on key nodes in the region’s pipeline infrastructure (see our previous article on the recent threats made by the NDA).  The following 12 months saw numerous groups emerge, with the number peaking in late 2016 with a total of at least 58 groups declaring their existence.   Many of these groups had no real capability to mount attacks and were simply opportunists wanting to take advantage of any further round of amnesty payments, however some had clear capacity and capability to severely disrupt oil and gas (and shipping) operations in the region

Throughout the period since the 2009 amnesty, pipelines in the region have been ravaged by relentless hot-tapping operations and industrial scale theft of crude oil and condensate.  Illegal refineries were found throughout the region, causing immeasurable environmental damage and economic loss to the oil companies whose product was being stolen and the communities whose land and waterways were being destroyed by pollution.

An interesting development is the emergence of a new group calling itself the Movement for the Emancipation and Defence of Niger Delta, MEDND[3].  This group issued a warning that they would avenge the death of any person killed in Delta State by herdsmen.  The group appears to have the backing of the Ijaw kingpin, Chief Edwin Clarke, who was intimately associated with MEND in its day.  He is currently the leader of Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, SMBLF.

Oil militancy is closely associated with sea piracy (see below), with groups operating in both capacities out of the same camps.  The oil militants regularly threaten international companies’ operations in the region, usually with a warning that personnel are not the target and should be evacuated before a given deadline.  There is little doubt that certain groups are present in the region whose threats are more than empty rhetoric and retain the capacity and intent to carry out attacks.  Threats published by militant spokesmen and warnings gained through credible intelligence sources should always be treated with great caution and the requisite risk reduction measures implemented as necessary.

Oil militancy will not go away in the near future.  The cartels stealing the crude and condensate make millions of dollars per month from their illicit activities.  They enjoy the patronage of men of influence who provide top-cover, and this has led to a situation where a status quo has been reached.  Thus, the flow of money – and from it power – into the region through illegal activities is likely to persist as long as the oil reservoirs remain productive.

Sea Piracy

The Gulf of Guinea is currently recognised as the most high-risk area for mariners anywhere in the world.  The situation grew out of the oil insurgency in the first decade of this century and it has evolved into a highly efficient operation that generates millions of dollars every month through hijacking, extortion, armed robbery and kidnapping on the high seas. Virtually all piracy in the region is linked to Nigeria and the majority to the coastal and swamp areas of the Niger Delta.

The gangs have, over the years, proven to be resilient and adaptable.  They now enjoy the advantages of operating over a huge area, with their operations now being mounted from mother ships that hunt their victims up to 200 nautical miles from nearest landfall.  This creates a massive challenge for the region’s navies, who suffer from lack of integrated intelligence gathering and response capability. Additionally, they seem able to adapt to any initiative mounted by the Nigerian Navy, and others in the region, whereby they simply change their modus operandi or operating footprint.

An example of this is seen in the last two years, when we have seen the emergence of groups that have developed the capacity to hold kidnap victims at sea, either on mother ships or vessels that have been hijacked – sometimes apparently for the sole purpose of holding a number of kidnap victims.

This threat remains potent and real for mariners operating in the region.  It is hoped that the Deep Blue project will have a positive impact, but regional cooperation and a more pragmatic approach to the use of private security will enhance any advantage gained from Deep Blue.

Petty Crime

Street crime, burglary, theft from motorists and motor vehicles and armed robbery are endemic in the urban areas of Nigeria.  These crimes are driven largely by desperation and need rather than acquisitive greed.

Petty crime will never go away in Nigeria (or any other country) and the only thing personnel can do is to educate themselves about the risks and the strategies they can adopt to reduce their profile and the attendant likelihood of being victimised.


Clearly there are a multitude of threats and associated risks to businesses and individuals working and visiting Nigeria, however as with all risks these can be mitigated through the adoption of appropriate risk mitigation measures.  As a highly accredited, professional risk management company, Arete is able to provide whatever support is necessary to ensure your safety and security and to protect you from physical, financial and reputational loss.







Arresting Nnamdi Kanu; Solution or Catalyst?

The arrest, detention and extradition of the titular head of the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, has focussed the minds of Nigerians, and to a lesser extent the international community on the issue of partition in Nigeria.  The arrest was allegedly carried out by Kenyan security operatives at the behest of the Nigerian government.  He was subsequently flown on a private jet to Abuja where he was taken into detention by the Department of State Security.  Kanu has been characterised as a terrorist by the Nigerian Government and remains in detention in Nigeria.

Since his trial was delayed on 26 July, the flow of rhetoric from his supporters has increased in volume and its tone has become more threatening.  Kanu’s status as a British citizen has also drawn the UK High Commission into the issue.  A large UK law firm has also been commissioned to represent him as it has been alleged that his removal from Kenya to Nigeria amounts to an extraordinary rendition, which is illegal under British law, the protection of which Kanu enjoys.

Ndigbo commentators have been busy, with the Association of South-East Towns Union (ASETU) issuing a long statement on 27 July to the effect that the arrest and detention of Kanu will not address the driver behind the movement for independence as Kanu is only a representative of the anger felt by the Ndigbo.  It claims that the Ndigbo people are discriminated against, and the discrimination has deepened under the present government.  The following day, another statement was issued by a Kuwait based spokesperson for the IPOB calling on the Federal Government to released Kanu immediately without further charge.  It gave a deadline of 08 August, following which, if Kanu remains in detention, the South-East political region of Nigeria will face a total shutdown every Monday from 06:00 am until 18:00 pm with effect from 09 August until such time as Kanu is released.

Street-level chatter among ordinary Igbo people is somewhat more ambiguous, with popular opinion seemingly divided.  Many feel that Kanu is a troublemaker who has brought an unwelcome surge of security forces activity into their homeland.  They point out the impact that has on personal freedoms and the ability to trade in the established manner.  Some feel that he is nothing more than a gangster who is seeking to empower himself.  Others, however, are vociferously supportive of Kanu and the secessionist aims of IPOB.

In the short term, it is likely that the shut-down protests will happen and be largely supported, albeit reluctantly in many cases.  People must earn money to feed and educate their children and any regular or protracted interruption to commerce will divide opinion quite quickly.  There is likely to be an increase in the activity of the so-called ‘unknown gunmen’, which will see security forces, and police stations, in particular, being targeted.  This could trigger a very strong reaction from the security forces, leading to further recriminations among the chatterati and an increase in support for IPOB.

The knock-on effects for business are likely to be indirect.  However, workers being absent from their positions on Mondays will also have an impact on most commercial operations.  Additionally, the heavy presence of security forces will likely render movement on the region’s roads more challenging and time-consuming, with an attendant risk of travellers being caught up in attacks on security forces.

In the long term, it is certain that the arrest, detention and trial of Kanu will not force IPOB to disband and abandon its ambitions.  If anything, it is likely that the movement will gain strength and support, with international attention becoming more focussed on those centrifugal forces that are also driving separatist movements in other parts of the country.

9 Pirates and the first of a kind trial in West Africa

In a revolutionary court ruling on Monday this week (5th July), a Togo court convicted and sentenced nine individuals to between 12 and 20 years in jail for maritime piracy. The incident took place in 2019, when the pirates boarded a small tanker, robbing the crew before being apprehended by the Togo Navy.

What does this landmark ruling mean for West African maritime security? How might it make the waters safer?

The conviction and associated custodial sentences of 9 pirates in a Togo court this week was a true milestone in the fight against piracy in the Gulf of Guinea region. The incident, which occurred on 11 May 2019 and saw the tanker G Dona 1 boarded, temporarily hijacked and robbed, has been well documented. This analysis will concentrate on the background to the court case and its overall impact on the region.

The case comes in the wake of changes to the Togolese Penal Code which in 2015 was amended to include acts of piracy at sea. The pirates, which included seven Nigerians, two Togolese and a Ghanaian, were arrested in 2019. The prosecution was brought by the present government – elected only last year – in what was possibly a strategic political message to highlight its credentials and intent with regards to countering crime both ashore and at sea.

Perhaps the most prominent aspect of the prosecution is that it happened in a country that hitherto has lacked any regional prominence in comparison to its neighbours such as Nigeria and Ghana. That the Togolese Navy managed to apprehend the perpetrators of the crime and bring them to justice is a clear example of what can be achieved if regional navies respond rapidly to intelligence and emerging situations. It has set a new benchmark for naval and coastguard operations, and it now behooves the better-resourced navies of other nations to emulate the performance of the tiny Togolese Navy.

Impact on Regional Piracy?

There are numerous maritime security arrangements and agreements in place in the region, including the declaration in early June 2021 signed by hundreds of international shipping companies, maritime organisations, and maritime service providers (See our 07 June Deep Dive – The Gulf of Guinea Declaration on Suppression of Piracy here). Most recently, on 11 July 2021, the Nigerian and Ghanaian navies agreed to integrate their intelligence and surveillance efforts, as well as develop personnel in the use of those systems, and also agreed to adopt a set of joint Standard Operating Procedures that would be adopted by both navies.

This intended collaboration between the two most powerful navies in the region should, if implemented diligently and efficiently, generate a positive impact and drive down incident rates – at least in coastal waters. There have also been numerous equipment procurement programs in several GoG nations, but all these efforts and good intentions have thus far failed to generate any significant lowering of risk to shipping and mariners in the region. The pirates have evolved and shifted their operations into deep water, thus avoiding the systems and procedures adopted by the littoral states, which have been designed to counter maritime criminal activity in territorial waters.

This case represents a paradigm shift though, as it has seen hefty sentences handed down to criminals who would expect only short jail terms at most in other regional states. The other key aspect of the case is that the group’s leader, a Nigerian going by the name of Peter Paul, was sentenced to 15 years in jail. Typically, in Nigeria – which is widely seen as the epicentre of pirate activity in the region – the top men in such cases escape custodial sentences and the junior members of the gang receive short prison terms. The length of the sentences handed down by the Togolese court will almost certainly have surprised the pirate gangs and their prominent backers in Nigeria.

It is possible that smaller countries such as Benin, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon will take note of the steadfast position adopted by the Togolese courts leading to potentially meaningful sentences being handed down by these State’s courts in the future.

Of the other regional powers, Cameroon has already successfully previously defeated a wave of piracy thought to have originated from Nigerian waters. Their response to that wave was highly kinetic and most pirate gangs that entered Cameroonian waters met their end when confronted by the Battalion d’Intervention Rapide (BIR). That past approach has meant that very few acts of piracy have occurred in Cameroonian waters since and it is likely they will continue to adopt such strategies in the future.

Like Togo, Ghana went through an election last year and its current government is determined to improve its security both onshore and at sea. It is likely therefore that we will see a robust response in the event that any maritime criminals or pirates are caught by Ghanaian security forces in the near future.

Ivory Coast is also stabilising after years of political uncertainty and social unrest; however, it is too early to say whether the Ivorian government will have the time or the will to address the problem of piracy in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

This leaves the major economy and largest populated state in the region – Nigeria. President Buhari officially launched the Deep Blue Project to counter piracy in mid-June, which is hoped, and expected, to have a significant impact on improving security in Nigerian waters (See our comments on the Deep Blue Project launch 10th June here). Hopes and expectations aside, with the insurgency continuing in the north-east of the country, the enduring problem of Biafran secession bubbling away in the South and the emerging threat of a similar movement in Yorubaland, the government has duelling security priorities at present.

Nevertheless, even in the event that the Nigerian Navy and the newly launched Deep Blue Project have an immediate effect leading to prison cells full of detained pirates, there remains a huge question mark over the reliability and robustness of the Nigerian judicial system to undertake follow through action.

The above aside, and looking to the future, it is hoped the region will see more successful prosecutions of pirates as other regional states up their game in the face of the demonstration of capability and intent by the Togolese courts. As usual there will need to be a degree of both local (peer) pressure, as well international pressure, involved to ensure the economic protection of all states in the region from the scourge of regional piracy.

You can read the full article on the sentencing here


#AreteDeepDive – The NDA Threat

On the 26th June 2021, the Niger Delta Avengers militant group announced the launching of “Operation Humble”.  The threat message stated that the group would once again bomb oil installations in the Niger Delta region with the aim of crippling the Nigerian economy.  It also threatened to attack politicians who are working with the Federal Government “…to undermine the Niger Delta region.” The threat statement was intended to focus attention on the ongoing discussion concerning the new oil bill and the issues of derivation funding, strategic development, and investment, and calls for social justice for indigenes of the region.

In this #AreteDeepDive, we take a look at the threat and what it means for all stakeholders in the region.

So what is the basis of this latest threat, and is it credible?

The Niger Delta Avengers emerged in 2016 when, on 13 February, the Forcados export line was bombed in a sophisticated underwater attack. The NDA claimed responsibility and announced that they “will continue blowing up pipelines until the Niger Delta people were no longer marginalized”.

The group went on to strike repeatedly throughout 2016, targeting specific, strategic nodes and links in the pipeline networks in the region which consequently halving Nigeria’s oil export capacity. The impact was to force the country into a recession as oil revenues plummeted. Their last confirmed attack occurred in November 2016, after which the attacks ceased when the Pan Niger Delta Forum brokered a ceasefire. Since then, the group has been active only sporadically and has focussed on political agitation.

Their stated aims are the establishment of the Niger Delta Republic and social and distributive justice for its people. The group has consistently remained critical of the incumbent President and has been supportive of the Biafran separatist Nnamdi Kanu, leader of IPOB.

It is noteworthy that throughout 2016 the NDA issued several threats which they then subsequently carried as promised. This is at odds with the usual rhetoric that fills the media from the many other militant groups active in the region (noting the region has seen as many as 36 active militant groups at any one time).

As a group noted for carrying out its threats the NDA developed a reputation as one of the most dangerous and active groups ever to emerge in the region, however since 2016 its capability has appeared to diminish. For example, in 2019 the group threatened to cripple the country’s oil industry if President Buhari was re-elected for a second term yet this threat failed to materialise.

What is different this time around?

There are a number of factors that make this latest threat from the NDA worthy of attention.

The content of the threat focuses on a loss of confidence in the peace processes and the development programs for the region. It names the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) as a failure and in doing so decouples itself from the pre-eminent Ijaw leadership of Chief Edwin Clark. It is noteworthy that it has previously denounced PANDEF in 2017 when the group said it had withdrawn from a ceasefire agreement.

Nigeria’s economy is currently in a parlous state, with rising debt, rampant unemployment, and dangerously low revenues and investment. While many commentators point towards a slight recovery in 2021, the indicators are that the economy will continue to suffer throughout the year. The knock-on effect of this is continued poverty and hardship in some areas of the Niger Delta meaning the continuance of fertile recruitment grounds for criminals and extremist groups.

#AreteDeepDive – Security in South-Eastern Nigeria

The widespread protests of 12 June focussed attention on the diverse and dynamic security situation that pervades much of Nigeria.   One area of particular concern is that of the South-East region comprising of the five Igbo heartland states of Imo, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Abia.  The simmering tension around the secessionist movement known as the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) is slowly coming to a boil.  Increasingly frequent attacks on security forces, primarily police stations, by so-called ‘unknown gunmen’ are elevating the tensions to the point where the population of the region expects a widespread and vigorous clampdown by security forces.

Tension in parts of Imo State is palpable.  The Orlu Local Government Area (LGA) became a focal point of security forces operations in recent months and anecdotal information from the community there describes a real fear of violence.  Children were not attending school and people were staying at home, only moving around the area when essential.  However, according to one local source, concerted security forces action in Orlu has forced IPOB to relocate its resources to Akokwa in the Ideato North LGA, and life is slowly returning to normal in Orlu.

Support for IPOB among the Igbo population of the region, and further afield, is fragmentary.  Many people resent the impact security forces activity has had on their communities as a result of the IPOB campaign.  IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu is widely regarded as an opportunist who cares little about the people of Biafra and who is more interested in building a personal power base and acquiring wealth.  However, his followers and supporters are numerous among indigenous Nigerians and the diaspora.  His influence and ability to mobilise large numbers of people will remain a problem for the Nigerian government and its security forces for the foreseeable future.

Many people fear a widespread backlash against Igbo communities and businesses across the country.  Numerous agitators on both sides of the discussion are contributing to this tension.  Many among the Igbo believe another Biafra conflict is inevitable.  They fear that IPOB will continue to provoke the security forces and Federal Government until patience in Abuja runs out, unleashing a full-scale counterinsurgency campaign in the South-East Region.   For now, the Biafran pot has not reached boiling point, but it has the potential to do so rapidly.  Nevertheless, the situation in the region is impacting heavily on local commercial activity and security forces activity might impede movement for business travellers to and within the region.

Arete provide travel advice and secure journey management for safe movement through all high risk environments in West Africa. Please see more information here or email us at for more information.

Gulf of Guinea Declaration on Suppression of Piracy

On May 17, BIMCO launched the “Gulf of Guinea Declaration on Suppression of Piracy” as noted in an earlier article on our website.

On May 20, Togolese MPs adopted a law on the planning, protection, and enhancement of the 50-kilometer coastline from Ghana to Benin. This new strategic document was validated in Lomé by actors in the sector. The plan will in effect enable Togo to better monitor fishing activities, prevent the overexploitation of resources and limit the number of boats that can fish in the national waters. Moreover, it would help improve the revenues of local fishermen.

So why are efforts like this important and what does the declaration mean?

The recent Gulf of Guinea Declaration on the Suppression of Piracy is the latest international initiative to address the enduring problem of maritime crime, in all its forms, in the region. It is an indicator of the degree of frustration within the maritime industry that has deepened in recent years as the pirates have become emboldened and gained additional reach and capacity.

To date, it has been signed by 292 shipping companies, maritime organisations, and maritime service providers. As a statement, the very existence of the Declaration is a strong indicator to Governments in the region that the world’s shipping industry expects them to act and to generate results.

To underline that frustration, the International Maritime Bureau and other transnational bodies have clearly identified the waters of the Gulf of Guinea as the global hotspot for piracy and other forms of maritime crime, with a total 39 incidents in the offshore environment and port areas of the region in 2021 to date (including at least 46 seafarers being abducted from their vessels).

However, piracy is not the only form of maritime crime to plague the region. Stowaways, illegal boardings and theft from ships in ports and anchorages, illegal and unregulated fishing, illegal dumping of waste, smuggling of illicit cargo and contraband, and illegal bunkering operations are just some of the other facets of the maritime criminal environment that exist. All are linked in a loose network of ‘businesses’ that are facilitated and patronised by key influencers and enablers.

Multiple programs of local naval equipment procurement throughout the Gulf of Guinea states have failed to make any significant headway against the criminal gangs operating in the region. Legislative steps taken by local Governments, while encouraging, have also had a limited impact on the ability of the pirates to carry out their operations. Equally, multi-national cooperation among regional states has also produced only minor results and these initiatives have proven to be short-lived in many cases. The reasons for these apparent failures are the root cause of the challenges faced by mariners in the region.

With regards to the Niger Delta area of Nigeria, poverty remains an enduring factor contributing to the piracy problem, through the generation of a huge pool of potential manpower, i.e. young men who are prepared to go to sea to commit criminality for financial gain.

In many instances, and despite the best intentions of local Governments, pirates also face little chance of being caught or killed and are confident of success as a result. Local judicial systems also fail to tackle the problem effectively, with very few of the ‘big men’ behind the gangs ever facing a court. In the rare event that a sponsor or patron is caught, they are normally able to avoid trial through patronage or bribery. Those junior members of the gangs that are caught and tried receive only lenient sentences and often are back at sea after very short periods in prison.

Respective Navies in the region also face their own problems, either due to a lack of capacity or a lack of capability to undertake effective maritime security. By example, many previous local procurement programs have seen the acquisition of predominantly small, fast craft suitable only for inshore, short-duration interception operations as opposed to acquiring larger vessels capable of undertaking long duration, deterrence (patrol) type operations, particularly in areas further offshore.

Local Navies’ ability to respond to incidents has also been undermined by a lack of technological architecture to support the Command, Control, Communication and Intelligence (C4I) functions that are critical for a timely and effective response.

Some Navies and national maritime agencies in the region have taken positive steps to address these issues including Nigeria who as part of their Deep Blue Project have acquired multiple assets including vessels and aviation assets to ensure the safety and security of their territorial waters and EEZ.

These assets, working in conjunction with multiple Regional Maritime Coordination Centres (RMCCs) located throughout Nigeria’s coastline, should go some way to providing an effective deterrence and response capability and it is clearly hoped that this latest declaration will drive more Gulf of Guinea states to invest in similar initiatives.

Whether this latest Declaration will see more Gulf of Guinea states invest in effective maritime security to reduce the levels of piracy in the region remains to be seen. Regardless, experience has shown that no single measure by any single state is going to defeat the criminals who prey on shipping in the Gulf of Guinea.

What is required is a truly multi-state, coordinated effort to ensure that local Navies have the right tools (and manpower) to deliver their mission and objectives in accordance with a holistic, regional counter-piracy strategy. This includes the deployment of assets that are fit-for-purpose to tackle the piracy problem, as well as investment in the right level of C4I architecture (e.g. the Regional Maritime Control Centres (RMCCs) established in Nigeria) that can provide accurate, timely and relevant intelligence to the Navy and other responders.

A thorough shake-up of local judicial systems to make piracy a high-risk enterprise is also necessary and the social drivers of instability that exist onshore, i.e. which generate the pool of manpower that pirate gangs require, also need addressing.