safer seas

The world’s hotspot for piracy is seeing calmer waters

The Gulf of Guinea has seen far fewer armed robberies, kidnappings, and other maritime crimes this year

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The threat hasn’t fully disappeared.
The threat hasn’t fully disappeared.
Photo: Pius Utomi Ekpei (Getty Images)

Six months since the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution calling for a crackdown on piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, the body is expected to check on its progress, and see good results, at a meeting on Nov. 22.

Resolution 2634 called upon member states in the Gulf of Guinea region to criminalize piracy and armed robbery at sea under their domestic laws, while also investigating, prosecuting or extraditing both the perpetrators of such crimes, as well as those who incite, finance, or intentionally facilitate them.


Cooperation among the states in the region—with Nigeria, the largest country and economy in the area, taking a leadership role—and international partners have been key to the reduction of piracy in the area. The shipping and trading industries benefit most, enjoying fewer delays, safer crews, and lower insurance premiums in pirate-free waters.

“Only improved knowledge sharing channels and increased collaboration between maritime response authorities will reduce the risk to seafarers in the region,” the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) director Michael Howlett said last April.


By the digits: Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is declining

17: countries with coastlines along the Gulf of Guinea (Gabon, Nigeria, Republic of Benin, Togo, Ghana, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Angola, Cameroun, Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast, Sao Tome & Principe)

$5 million: Estimated yearly ransom payments to Gulf of Guinea pirate gangs

$1.925 billion: Piracy’s economic effect on trade annually for twelve Gulf of Guinea countries.


25%: Share of Africa’s shipping traffic passing through the Gulf of Guinea

34: Piracy incidents in the Gulf of Guinea in 2021, down from 81 in the year prior


13: Piracy and armed robbery incidents in the Gulf of Guinea in the first nine months of 2022, compared to 27 over the same period in 2021, of which ten were classified as armed robberies and three as piracy

6,000: Kilograms of cocaine with an estimated street value of $350 million seized in April thanks to a collaboration between US and Cabo Verde authorities


$195 million: Nigeria’s Deep Blue Project investment towards vessels, maritime domain awareness platforms, and land and sea assets, which includes a maritime security unit made up of 600 specially trained troops

Charted: Keeping illicit activities in seas at bay


International efforts to curtail piracy in the Gulf of Guinea

To support the anti-piracy efforts, European Union member countries, the US, and China have supplied military hardware, training, finance, naval support, and patrol. France has maintained a permanent presence at sea through its “Operation Corymbe” since 1990. The US runs the annual “Obangame Express” exercise each year to bolster preparedness.


Italian, Danish, and Russian warships have also been actively defending the region. Their interventions have highlighted gaping holes in managing piracy, including an absence of handover agreements between coastal states and non-regional deployers and how ill-equipped the region is in arresting usually heavily-armed and aggressive pirates in skiffs.

The piracy threat persists

Although piracy is declining, it’s not been weeded out entirely.

Seafarer kidnappings in the region fell to 57 in 2021—though the Gulf of Guinea accounted for all of them. The IMB attributed the improvement to the increased presence of international naval vessels and cooperation with regional authorities.


“There is concern that the recent decline in piracy incidents could be reversed without sustained engagement,” the UN Security Council recently noted, pointing to persisting socioeconomic challenges plaguing Gulf of Guinea countries that have fueled piracy.

Quotable: Domestic and international efforts to fight piracy

“We commend the efforts of the coastal authorities of the Gulf of Guinea. While the decline is welcome, sustained and continued efforts of the coastal authorities and the presence of the international navies remain essential to safeguard seafarers and long-term regional and international shipping and trade. There is no room for complacency.” -IMB director Michael Howlett


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