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Combating piracy at the Gulf of Guinea: The Case of Cameroon and Nigeria

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The insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea especially in the States of Cameroon and Nigeria has left the country with significant undesirable repercussion. The insecurity is as a results of some factors which has caused a hindrance in development. The study has an objective to examine the extent to which the common initiative put in place by Cameroon and Nigeria has helped to eradicate piracy at the Gulf of Guinea. The study under research adopts a pure qualitative research methodology based on analysis of non-numerical data the data collected is analyzed through the use of content analysis. The research also adopts a doctrinal research method in order to be able to navigate through a number of related literatures with the aim of examining key issues. The analysis made by the research shows that combating piracy at the Gulf of Guinea is very primordial due to the fact that the insecurity at the Gulf of Guinea caused by pirates has resulted to untold suffering, lost of lives property and collection of ransom thereby living the people in fear. Pirates activities in the region of Cameroon and Nigeria has gone through a series of transformation. A pirate has moved from the use of traditional to the use of modern tools. There is a need to secure the wellbeing of the population especially those using the sea like sailors, business persons, and crew members. Both States having the responsibility to respect, protect, and fulfill the fundamental rights of their citizens, the study recommends that the government of the States of Cameroon and Nigeria should put in effective measures to completely eradicate piracy in order to ensure a stable economy, stability, and security of the citizens in the States of Cameroon and Nigeria.       






Piracy has been in existence as long as maritime commerce came into existence.[1] Although the very first piracy attack that occurred is unknown, historical records indicate the earliest documentation was in the 14th century BC; where the Aegean and Mediterranean voyages were attacked by seafaring raiders. In classical antiquity (from the 8th century BC), the Greeks, Illryians, Romans, Tyrrhenian, and the Phoenicians were involved in acts of piracy. Until the Romans conquered Illyria, the Illyrians were regarded as the most famous ancient pirates, whom continuously raided the Adriatic Sea. The Roman empires trade in the Mediterranean was once again threatened during the 1st century BC by Clinician pirates in Cilicia (today Known as Turkey). It is said that in 75 BC Julius Caesar, was kidnapped by Cilician pirates and held prisoner for ransom in the Dodecanese islet of Pharmacusa The ancient Egyptians records indicate that Cyprus was attacked by lukkan pirates and Alexandra the great fought against numerous priest in the Mediterranean.[2] In the early Middle Ages (8th and 12th century BC) the Vikings were the most popular pirates.

            Their pirate attacks were the most far reaching; they were ranging from Western Europe, Eastern Europe, North Africa and Italy. Other pirates that were active during this age include, but limited to, the Moor pirates, Frisian pirates, Arab pirates, Irish pirates, Novgorodian pirates. The Golden age (1620- 1720) piracy took place when piracy attacks were permitted by the government by way of commission/letter of marque and reprisal, ships were allowed by the governments to attack and to steal from ships of other enemy nations.

       The profits were shared with their government. This was referred to as “privateering”. For example, the United States government was specifically authorized by the United States Constitution of 1787 to issue these letters of marque and reprisal. As a result, they were recognized by international convention and technically implied that a privateer could not be charged with piracy while acting under the authority and specifications of the letter of marque/commission. However, not all nations acknowledged privateering thus still punished privateers in the same manner they did to pirates whom were not acting under any government authorization, an example is the Spanish authorities who execute foreign privateers. To demonstrate that the Spanish rejected privateering as a defense and executed the foreign privateers with their letter of marque hung around their neck. When pirates were caught during the 17th and 18th centuries, they were often hanged as punishment.

The hangings took place in public, as a form of entertainment during that day and age. Many nations used and supported privateering including Saint Malo to protect themselves against the Vikings in the 9th century BC. Queen Elizabeth the first of England also utilized and supported privateering (her privateers were known as sea dogs),One of the most famous privateers during this age was under the authority, and his name was Sir Francis Drake, known for his cunning as a naval commander and his successful attacks on Spanish galleons [3] The French also encouraged privateers (known as the French corsairs) and thus adopted a policy to attack English and Dutch ships during the Nine year war (1688-1697). Americans also used privateers in the Kings George’s War (1744–1748) and in the Revolutionary war. The Chinese pirates were active in Malacca Straight, the Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia during the 19 century, however eliminated by the joint forces of the US Navy and Royal Navy during 1860s-1870s.[4] Privateering was abolished by the Paris Declaration Respecting Maritime Law of 16 April 1856.

Piracy has emerged as an international problem, raising the concern of national governments as well as ship owners and transportation companies. However, piracy is an old phenomenon, dating back to the beginning of seafaring, and the analysis of its history and causes can facilitate the understanding of its modern manifestations. For a complete narration of its history throughout the centuries, enumerating all the forms in which it manifested itself, Modern piracy is a transnational phenomenon, since it involves the ship owners, crew members, ports, and territorial waters of different states. However, it is a local problem as well, particularly concentrated in a few areas: Southeast Asia, Somali waters, the West African coast, and parts of South America. Indeed, piracy arises in geographically favorable areas, namely along the main trading routes.[5] Pirates also favor territories with coves and coastal outlets of creeks, where they can easily hide, as well as narrow seas that foster the concentration of transport ships and thus the concentration of targets.

In addition to geographical factors, certain political and socio -economic conditions are more likely to encourage piracy than others. In past centuries, government shave at times tolerated and even supported piracy.[6] Although the explicit support of piratical activities has ended, political instability or state failure is still a favorable condition for piracy.

On the one hand, weak governments are unable to enforce effective piracy counter measures; on the other, in these states pirates can often benefit from the presence of corrupt government and police officials and thus act undisturbed.[7]The history of piracy confirms the importance of the above-mentioned factors in the birth and development of the phenomenon. The first piracy-prone area was the Mediterranean Sea, characterized by the presence of coves and bays where pirates could easily hide. Moreover, since it is an enclosed sea with many islands, ships often sailed close to the shore, becoming more vulnerable to attacks.

The first recorded piratical attack dates back to the 14th century, when the Lukkans, based in Asia Minor, raided Cyprus. Besides being one of the first groups of sea raiders, the Lukkans first benefited from the protection of a foreign power in this case the Hittites in exchange for their pledge not to attack Hittite ships.

The lack of a nation with a powerful navy capable of and invested in patrolling the Mediterranean is another reason for the proliferation of piracy in the ancient world. The Greeks were organized in independent city-states, often at war with one another and in some cases encouraging piracy. Even when Athens achieved naval and political power, its navy never succeeded in completely eliminating the pirates that infested their own arm of the Mediterranean. Off the coast of Somali, pirates, on the other hand, frequently act in international waters, since 2000 and in 2006 kidnapping the crew members or passengers and demanding ransom[8].

Finally, attacks along the West African coast and in South America are characterized by the frequent use of violence against persons; the targets of these attacks are usually berthed or anchored ships from which the crew’s personal effects, as well as the ship’s equipment and often the entire cargo, are stolen. African maritime security is particularly severely affected by maritime piracy and armed robbery at sea. Maritime piracy is not a new phenomenon; it has existed for as long as people and commodities have traversed the oceans.[9] Under article 101 of UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, piracy is defined as:

“Any acts of violence, detention, or depredation committed on the high seas by the crew or passengers of a private ship or aircraft against another ship, aircraft, persons, or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any state for private ends.”[10]

Two maritime regions are chiefly troubled by maritime piracy: the Gulf of Aden to the East of Africa and the Gulf of Guinea to the West Africa.[11] The most common form of modern-day piracy and armed robbery at sea in both Gulfs is the hijacking of ships, with a focus on kidnapping and ransom payments. Aside from national and regional effects, maritime piracy and armed robbery at sea are considered a threat to the global economy.

From an economic point of view, maritime piracy is a threat for regional and global economy, as Africa’s key maritime routes are affected adversely. Over 90% of Africa’s imports and exports are moved by sea.[12]

The name “Guinea” is attached to the names of three countries in Africa: Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and Equatorial Guinea, as well as Papua New Guinea in Melanesia (The Asian continent).

 The region is one of the World’s richest and under exploited place. It holds about 35 % of the World’s total petroleum reserve and blessed with many minerals and other natural resources such as diamonds, tin, bitumen, uranium, copper, manganese, gold, phosphates, granite, gas, marble, quartz, lead, zinc, wolfram, fluorite, sulfur, feldspar, silver, kaolin, mica, asphalt, gypsum, oil and talc as well as a very rich rain forests accounting for 20% of the world’s total rainforest and serves as one of the major oxygen-generating source of the globe[13] , while keeps providing shelter and protection to a large portion of the World’s biodiversity including the pygmies, animals, microorganisms etc. Some of these minerals found in this region are as shown below: The member present countries of the region include

Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cote D’ivoire Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Congo, São Tomé and Príncipe, Congo DRC and Angola including Cabinda.[14]

Maritime related pollutions and social crimes are on the increase in this region due to the size, weak institutions as well as socio-economic reasons. All the major economic activities in the region such as petroleum exploration, port operations, mining and gas flaring together with some other negative activities going on more frequently in the region such as piracy, kidnappings and poor waste management culture are all pointing to stagnation in development through decline in the economic income of the nations in the region, decline in Seafood and Aquatic lives as well as reduction in the volume of vessels patronizing the region for economic developments purposes. The culprits are often heavily armed criminal enterprises.

In 2012, the International Maritime Bureau, Oceans beyond Piracy and the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Program reported that the number of vessels attacks in West Africa which forms 50 % of the total area of the Gulf of Guinea by pirates had reached a world high, with 966 seafarers attacked during the year. According to the Control Risks Group, pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea had by mid-November 2013maintained a steady level of around 100 attempted hijackings in the year, a close second behind Asia. For some time, especially between 2004 to 2009 smaller ships shuttling employees and materials belonging to the companies like Chevron, Texaco, Shell and Total among others exploring in the region had been at risk of kidnappings with greater risks with the Foreign expatriates working in the region. However, over time, these pirates became more aggressive and better armed.

Records and statistics shows that the new characteristics or tactics of Pirates operating in the present day Gulf of Guinea region involves hijacking of fishing vessels, particularly those operating within the territorial waters of the region and the Atlantic coast, and using same to attack other vessels operating off the coasts of any neighboring country in the region like Benin, Togo, Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroun and some others. Most of these recent attacks have extended further outward in to the Atlantic Ocean Areas beyond the national jurisdiction of any member country and largely focusing on Oil-laden vessels, to steal the petroleum product.[15] The Gulf of Guinea piracy is highly technical and sometimes even highly sophisticated, illicit taking of oil. They steal the Oil, make a couple of black-market circles of

the stuff, and then deposit it back into the global supply chain. This explains why President Muhammad Buhari of Nigeria during a summit on anti-corruption in London on the 12th May, 2016 call on the international community to declare stolen Oil as illicit commodity and consider it as “Blood Oil” just like how the Global community considers the stolen Diamonds from some war zones or countries illegal and called them the “Blood Diamonds”.[16]

This Pirates activities here in the Atlantic Ocean of the Gulf of Guinea region is still on the increase and is still seriously affecting the economies of member countries in the region; for example, trade of Benin’s major port, the Port of Cotonou was reported in 2012 to have dropped by 70 percent and the cost of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea due to stolen goods, security, and insurance has been estimated to be about USD $4 billion in 2015. Position of governments and relevant bodies in the region: As the scale, frequency and piracy heats keeps growing over the years in the region, there is an increasing desire among member nations of the region to promote and preserve good order at the Sea. This led to the incessant calls for partnership to fight piracy in the region by governments of the region through joint forces especially the constant call on this issue from President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria since he assumes power in the year 2015; to bring onboard the governments, stakeholders, experts and the member of the relevant local and international communities in the region to work on this issue affecting us all over the years ,it has been discovered that pirates had taken many forms and several measure has been taken to combat piracy at the Gulf of Guinea. Laws has been put in place but these laws has not been effectively implemented to deter those caring the act of piracy.

There are many factors that has led to piracy in the Gulf of Guinea which are legal and judicial weakness, for example, favorable geographical condition, conflict and disorders, unequipped law enforcement, inadequate security, permissive political environments, cultural acceptability and promised of reward. More especially maritime piracy in Nigeria is greatly landed to oil development and resulting economic, social and environmental condition of the Niger Delta where citizens based mostly on oil income. Unemployment and over dependence on government makes many to turn to piracy as source to earn a living. Piracy is seen as a threat to be addressed by government force rather than pirate effort. However local natives are not equipped to patrol the vast Golf territory.[17]

Gone are the days when the pirates had eyes patches, swords and were the masters of fasts cutters. Now it is Rybans cellular phone and speed boats. Today, ships are highly vulnerable to criminal predators in high-speed boats armed with modern assault weapons and operating in sea lanes that international carrier must traverse. Pirates are thus able to make surprises attacks; on unarmed merchantmen and get away with their money and goods. Modern day pirate, are well armed and well equipped and are becoming more active in the practice and along the coast of Africa.

A number of treaties and agreements has been signed between Cameroon and Nigeria and between both countries with different states .For example, the agreement signed between Cameroon and Nigeria on the establishment of Cross bothers security 2012. This agreement comes up with a committee known as the cross bother security committee. This agreement is to the effect that, there is cooperation between Cameroon and Nigeria to fight piracy and other illicit crimes committed in the territorial waters of each other’s states. This agreement gives each states the power to enter the territorial waters of another state to fight piracy and insecurity[18]

Cameroon and Nigeria are also parties to the united nation convention of the law of the sea 1982 henceforth known as (UNCLOS), where articles 101to107 talks of anti-piracy rules.[19]

Over the years, it has been discovered that piracy had taken many forms and several measures have been taken to combat pirates act in the Gulf of Guinea but there is still limitation as to measures taken to combat piracy. Laws have been put in place but these laws have not been effectively implemented to deter those caring out the act of piracy. This research seeks to booze up the measure put in place to combat piracy in order that the illicit acts of piracy can efficiently come to an end.


The international legal regime pertaining to maritime piracy has developed and grown over the years. These charges were promoted due to lacunas in the global system, which surfaces

when the codified laws were implemented. The problem of maritime piracy flares up every few years especially with the modernization of boats and weapons. Anti-maritime piracy operations have been very successful in controlling and reducing piratical activities for example, attack of merchant vessels of the Somalia cost has considerable reduced. Giving the success of such Anti-piracy operations. Traditional drawbacks, faced by maritime transportation such as slowness and delay have been overcome following many major technical innovation aimed at improving the performance of ships. These innovations have, however, not benefited the Gulf of Guinea region in general and Cameroon and Nigeria in particular. Due to danger posted by pirates and armed robbers within the territorial waters of the zone.

The consequences of insecurity include prohibited maritime insurance premium which in turn affects the cost of living and a decrease in port revenue. [20]  Although there are a number of laws on maritime transportation, these seem not to meet up with the aspirations to completely eradicate piracy at the gulf of guinea.

The creation of a special unit in the Cameroon army named the rapid intervention battalion’ better known by the French acronym BIR with one of its principal activities being to watch over maritime zone of Cameroon seems not to yield much fruits. This is evident from recent attacks in Cameroon’s coastal towns of Limbe and Douala by pirates from sea.

Moreover, despite the existence of laws, put in place, by the government of Cameroon, and Nigeria, there is still much on the ground that the government of these countries have to cover. Many challenges still stand on the way of Cameroon and Nigeria when it comes to trade and protection of their rights and security in as far as Maritime activities is concern.

Some of these challenges are both institutional and traditional. Such as Corruption, weak laws, and lack of experts to bring piracy to its knees. This is because there is absence of common initiative in the Gulf of Guinea.

Although there are many laws put in place at the Gulf of Guinea especially in the region of Cameroon and Nigeria there are still persistence acts of Pirates activities in Cameroon and Nigeria



Cameroon and Nigeria take commendable steps at eradicating piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. This theme remains the paramount concern of this work. In a bid to effectively examine the measures taken by both States in combating piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, the following questions will be answered.


1.3.1: General research question

  • To what extent have the common legal initiatives by Cameroon and Nigeria curbed piracy in the Gulf of Guinea?

1.3.2: Specific Research Questions.

  • What Constitute piracy and the nature of piracy acts committed in the Gulf of Guinea?

  • What are the Causes and effects of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea?

  • What responses are provided for to curb piracy in the Gulf of Guinea?

  • What policy recommendations can be made to improve on the fight of Cameroon and Nigeria over piracy in the Gulf of Guinea?


1.4.1: General Research Objectives

  • The main objective of this study is to examine the extent to which the common Legal initiatives between Cameroon and Nigeria has curb piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.

1.4.2: Specific Research Objectives

  • To examine the concept and nature of piracy acts in the Gulf of Guinea.
  • To examine the Causes and effects of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.
  • To analyze the responses provided for by Cameroon and Nigeria to curb piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.
  • To make policy recommendations to improve on the fight of Cameroon and Nigeria over piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.




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