Jakob Paaske Larsen
Head of Maritime Safety & Security
- (+45) 4436 6844
International support for anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Guinea by non-regional navies is growing. BIMCO strongly supports the efforts and is committed to stimulating discussions and finding solutions to repress piracy in the region. A recent plenary meeting saw support from many nations in the region and beyond.
On 19 January 2022, the 4th Plenary Meeting of the Gulf of Guinea Maritime Collaboration Forum/SHARED Awareness and De-Confliction (GOG-MCF/SHADE) enjoyed participation by the majority of navies from the countries in the Gulf of Guinea area as well as many non-regional countries and military and shipping stakeholders.
The meeting was conducted in an atmosphere of mutual understanding and there is a growing, shared understanding of the importance of regional, as well as non-regional, contributions to the anti-piracy efforts if successful repression of piracy is to be achieved in the short term.
The communication and exchange of information between reporting centres ashore, merchant ships, non-regional navies and regional navies was discussed at length and several concerns were raised. There had been recent incidents where information regarding ongoing pirate action group disruptions had not been shared until after the completion of the operation due to concerns over the operational security for the involved military forces.
BIMCO pointed out that as early as August 2021, BIMCO had suggested a plan for communication between all stakeholders, ashore and at sea, and that the relevant working group had not yet been able to agree on a communications plan. The co-chair of the meeting concluded that the BIMCO proposal for a communications plan should be revisited with an aim to expedite its finalisation.
After the meeting, BIMCO’s Head of Maritime Safety & Security, Jakob Larsen, said:
“Communication is the lifeblood of any joint military operation. Operational security, however, should never be compromised out of political correctness. We appreciate the decision to move forward with the development of a communications plan and hope it will lead to increased involvement of the able and willing, regional law enforcement assets.”
In a most welcome development, France announced that it is deploying a state-of-the-art Maritime Patrol Aircraft (the Atlantique-2 type) to Libreville in Gabon. Originally designed for anti-submarine warfare, this aircraft is exceptionally well-equipped for the anti-piracy task. Its radars and optical sensors are designed to detect small periscopes at long ranges and will also be able to detect pirate skiffs moving around at considerable range. From its base in Libreville, Gabon, the flying time to the piracy-prone areas in the Gulf of Guinea is typically less than one hour. In combination with the Danish frigate already on an antipiracy mission, and drawing on other maritime domain awareness capabilities in the region, it will be possible to establish and maintain a good picture of maritime activity in the area. It will also allow for swift action in case a pirate action group is identified.
While recalling that the details, such as allocation of flight hours of the French deployment, are still unknown, BIMCO’s Jakob Larsen commented:
“With the exception of another frigate with a helicopter and a robust mandate, the antipiracy assets we have called for since 2019 are now largely available. We hope the coastal states in Gulf of Guinea will now step up and bring their unique strengths to the table, including accepting handover and carrying out prosecution and imprisonment of pirates according to international standards.”
At the meeting, experience was shared regarding self-defence measures and the extent to which ships in the area are effectively implementing them. Based on observations in the Gulf of Guinea, some military stakeholders raised concerns that too many commercial ships did not have adequately effective self-defence measures in place.
Examples were offered, including one where a lack of lookout and insufficient use of physical barriers had allowed a group of pirates to quickly and undetected board a merchant ship and take control of the crew. A navy helicopter arriving at the scene shortly thereafter was unable to help because the risk to the hostages, in case of a rescue attempt, was considered too great.
It was stressed that implementing self-defence measures and taking the steps described in BMP West Africa (Best Management Practices to Deter Piracy and Enhance Maritime Security off the Coast of West Africa including the Gulf of Guinea) is essential. Such steps include keeping the UK/French operated naval reporting and liaison centre MDAT-GoG (Maritime Domain Awareness for Trade – Gulf of Guinea) informed when entering and exiting the area. It also includes reporting suspicious activity, maintaining a good lookout, establishing effective physical barriers to prevent unauthorised boarding and moving around in the ship, and making evasive manoeuvres when pirates attack.
BIMCO’s Jakob Larsen said:
“For the safety of the crew, merchant ships are strongly advised to meticulously follow the guidance in BMP West Africa. Complacency can lead to many complications for an individual ship and its crew, and if failure to implement effective self-defence measures becomes widespread, it will only motivate more pirates to the detriment of the wider maritime industry.”
See BMP West Africa.