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The Gulf of Guinea is a hunting ground for pirates

Syphoning of oil from hijacked cargo ships, illegal fishing, trafficking rife along the 5,700-km coastal zone

Paris

THE Gulf of Guinea, where 17 seamen were abducted on Thursday when two merchant ships came under attack in Cameroonian waters, has in recent years become the epicentre of world maritime piracy.

The syphoning of oil from hijacked cargo ships, illegal fishing, trafficking of all kinds: the 5,700-kilometre coastal zone stretching from Senegal to Angola is a happy hunting ground for pirates.

It has upstaged the Gulf of Aden, where once rampant piracy has considerably diminished faced with the deployment of an international military armada.

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In 2018 in the Gulf of Guinea, attacks have more than doubled compared to 2017, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), accounting for all six hijackings worldwide, 13 out of 18 ships fired upon and most kidnappings for ransom.

Pirates are now venturing out farther, often beyond territorial waters, and attacking a wider range of vessels, from fishing boats to larger carriers, according to the IMB.

However, attacks in the region appear to be in decline since the start of 2019 due to the deployment of more military ships.

Pirates operating off Nigeria, Togo and Benin are usually well-armed and violent. Sometimes they hijack ships for several days, long enough to loot the holds, attacking the crews who are less willing to sail in these waters.

Others release them after a ransom is paid.

Earlier this month 10 Turkish sailors who had been kidnapped in July by gunmen off Nigeria were released. In May, an intervention by the military navy of Equatorial Guinea stopped 10 pirates who had attacked a Maltese-flagged vessel and released the 20 crew members.

Ghanaian Defence Minister Dominic Nitiwul in July said piracy in the Gulf was a "threat to all nations" as Africa endorsed a free trade agreement to boost exchange between African countries.

Piracy in the Gulf, home to Sub-Saharan Africa's two main oil producers Nigeria and Angola, has seriously disrupted this international shipping route and cost the global economy billions of dollars.

The 17 countries in the region, whose surveillance and maritime defence capabilities are limited and disparate, have been trying for several years to bolster their means of intervention and to put in place a closer regional collaboration, with the help of the United States and France. AFP