Thursday

19th May 2022

Exclusive

EU navies to hunt pirates in West Africa

  • EU pilot mission in Gulf of Guinea was partly modelled on Atalanta operation in the Horn of Africa (Photo: eunavfor)
Listen to article

An EU mission using Danish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish warships is to patrol West African waters in coming years to stymie piracy.

France, Italy, and Spain would lead the way, sending ships for eight months each in 2022, the EU external action service proposed in a recent memo to member states' ambassadors.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The Gulf of Guinea in West Africa "continues to be particularly dangerous for seafarers", the memo, dated 12 January and seen by EUobserver, noted.

"The region now accounts for just over 95 percent of all kidnappings for ransom at sea," it said.

"The risk of PAG [pirate action group] actions remains high ... from Togo to Gabon, with Nigeria as the centre of gravity," the EU added.

But "none of the coastal navies, with the partial exception of Nigeria, can operate the required high-sea patrol boats to respond to attacks," the EU said.

Danish, French, Italian, Portuguese ships have already been doing "exercises" under a "pilot" EU project called the Coordinated Maritime Presences (CMP) Concept in the region since January 2021.

And the foreign service proposed extending the CMP until 2024.

It wanted to put down legal roots, by exploring "handover agreements" with the 20 or so Gulf of Guinea-region nations.

"If the national appropriate legal framework is in place, pirates will be transferred to the concerned MS [member states] and then prosecuted," the EU memo suggested.

The EU was building an intelligence-sharing platform linking "more than 300 EU and [Gulf of Guinea]-national authorities with responsibilities in maritime surveillance".

And Europe wanted to win hearts and minds, including among the "general public".

EU diplomats were to launch a "strategic communication" campaign, with special events, involving CMP "naval visits" at "ports of call, such as Lagos in Nigeria".

Pirate alley

The EU pilot-mission aside, other Danish, French, Italian, Spanish, and US warships have also done independent patrols in the Gulf of Guinea in recent times.

The oil-rich 2.35 million km2 region, where millions of people lived on less than $1 a day, has been become known as "pirate alley", the Reuters news agency recently reported.

Hostages, hundreds of whom were seized in recent years, were ransomed for up to $300,000, it said.

But prisoners suffered ordeals in "the [Niger] Delta's swampy, snaking creeks, where they face malaria, typhoid, and attacks from rival bands of kidnappers", Reuters' report, from Lagos, said.

"Possible attacks might focus on targets closer to the Niger Delta .... their [many pirates'] place of origin, enabling them to flee if being intercepted" in future, the EU foreign service noted in its threat assessment.

Meanwhile, iIllegal fishing was also doing "serious damage to the environment" and causing "depletion of fish stocks", it added.

The region was a "transit zone, but also a destination, of drug trafficking between South America and Europe," it warned.

And there was "human-trafficking and migrant-smuggling towards other African countries or other regions, especially Europe, via the Canary Islands", the EU said.

Hot pursuit

It remained to be seen how well the EU's ambitions go down in Nigeria, the regional power, however.

Nigeria recently accused Denmark of neocolonialism over an incident, last November, when special-forces soldiers from a Danish frigate shot dead four pirates.

And when the same frigate, the Esbern Snare, sent a helicopter to rescue hostages seized by pirates from a Greek-operated container ship, the Tonsberg, in December, Nigeria ordered Denmark's hot pursuit to halt when the pirate boat entered Nigerian waters.

Zooming out, the EU also has military missions in the Central African Republic (CAR), Libya, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, and Somalia, as well naval ones in the Central Mediterranean and Horn of Africa seas.

But Europe is competing for influence against Russian and wider aggression as well as Chinese buy-outs of strategic assets in Africa.

"The purpose of the CMP [the EU's West Africa anti-piracy mission] is to increase the EU's capacity as a reliable maritime security provider," the EU memo said.

Europe's flagship anti-piracy operation, Atalanta in the Horn of Africa, has drastically reduced piracy compared to 10 years ago.

But Atalanta, on which CMP was modelled, risked being ejected from Somalia's waters, in a setback to Western efforts to counter piracy in the area, another EU memo from 5 January revealed.

Exclusive

EU eyes Indian Ocean naval adventure

Europe is preparing to boost its naval presence in the north west Indian Ocean "to uphold freedom of navigation" in the world's trade jugular.

EU blacklists Mali's prime minister

The EU has blacklisted Mali's prime minister for postponing elections, risking a fresh tantrum from a junta with ever-closer Russia ties.

Opinion

Will 'Putin's Nato' follow Warsaw Pact into obscurity?

Valdimir Putin's equivalent to Nato — the Collective Security Treaty Organization of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Armenia, Tajikistan, and Belarus — is convening in Moscow next week to give cover that Russia is not alone in its war against Ukraine.

Opinion

Is EU 'Horizon' science funding going towards Pegasus spyware?

MEPs have raised questions about the involvement of the EU — through its funding — in the development of the Israeli NSO Pegasus software, directly or indirectly, which has been used to target activists and journalists in Europe.

News in Brief

  1. Finland expects cut in gas supply after Nato application
  2. Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands push offshore wind
  3. Turkey strong-arms Finland and Sweden on extraditions
  4. Sharp increase in irregular migration to EU
  5. Russia ejects 85 European diplomats
  6. Germany shuts ex-chancellor Schröder's office over Putin ties
  7. Russia soldier pleads guilty to Ukraine war crime
  8. EU to protect Finland and Sweden until they join Nato

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic delegation visits Nordic Bridges in Canada
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersClear to proceed - green shipping corridors in the Nordic Region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers agree on international climate commitments
  4. UNESDA - SOFT DRINKS EUROPEEfficient waste collection schemes, closed-loop recycling and access to recycled content are crucial to transition to a circular economy in Europe
  5. UiPathNo digital future for the EU without Intelligent Automation? Online briefing Link

Latest News

  1. Nordic Bridges unveil latest highlights of Spring programme
  2. EU plans to jointly invest in defence capabilities
  3. EU and US keen to seize Russian funds for Ukraine
  4. EU to boost solar and renewables rollout to cut Russian gas
  5. Commission grilled on RePowerEU €210bn pricetag
  6. Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine - the case for granting EU candidacy
  7. Watchdog calls for tougher curbs on 'problematic' revolving doors
  8. Borrell: EU arms flow to Ukraine amid 'record' Russian losses

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us