Shell warns of rising piracy threat in Gulf of Guinea
Oil company Shell says piracy is spreading in Africa, with the world"s largest tanker charterer warning of escalating threats in the Gulf of Guinea, and possible infiltration of terrorists into criminal gangs.
Shell International Trading & Shipping vice-president Jan Kopernicki said the global maritime community remained largely unaware of the ?minor but not insignificant? growing piracy threat in the Gulf of Guinea.
?What people are doing is looking at the Somali model and saying "that"s interesting, perhaps we can do it as well". Now that is very significant and at the moment I think it is a faint signal that is not being sufficiently read,? Mr Kopernicki told Lloyd"s List.
The incoming president of the Chamber of Shipping, widely respected for his measured and cautious approach, is in charge of overseas shipping for a company that records 5,000 tanker voyages annually, some of which sail through the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden.
?It is vital that we address the issue of Somalia promptly by whatever means,? Mr Kopernicki said. ?Promptly is unrealistic and I know that. But I won"t apologise for adding urgency to the conversation.
?If we don"t, the current problem will continue and may move from criminality ? and I hesitate to say this ? but possibly to terrorism. It is curious to me why it hasn"t happened already because it"s such an available model.?
Deadly pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea have mostly focused on offshore supply and fishing vessels over the last 12 months. Earlier this month seven Chinese fisherman, whose vessel was hijacked off the coast of Cameroon, were released after a ransom payment.
The lucrative piracy model developed by Somali pirates over the last 18 months has seen well-organised gangs target the major shipping corridor between Somalia and Yemen, through which an estimated 25,000 vessels transit annually.
Although nobody knows for certain, tens of millions of dollars have been raised in ransom payments, with increased insurance payments adding to chartering costs, and underpinning a mostly London-based branch industry dealing with the legal and security aspects of hostage negotiations.
Some 215 ships were reported attacked by Somalia pirates in 2009 ? half of all global piracy attacks ? with 47 hijacked and 867 crew held hostage. Three ships and 98 crew have been hijacked in the the Gulf of Aden in 2009, with negotiations under way to release them.
The EU Navfor military mission, launched in December 2008 to tackle piracy off the Somali coast established a 500-mile long internationally recognised transit corridor to improve safety, with widespread support from other navies including the US, China and Russia.
Mr Kopernicki praised EU Navfor, headquartered in the UK, and endorsed a series of United Nations-led diplomatic initiatives elsewhere that aimed to address piracy and allow Somalis to ?feed their families?.
?These are desperate people,? he said.
But he indicated he was at odds with the UK-government"s anti-ransom stance, insisting that the safety of seafarers was paramount, and highlighted a recent High Court ruling that had indicated payment was not illegal.