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John Daly

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India Nervous About Increasing West African Piracy

After China, India is Asia’s largest rising energy importer. According to the U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration, “India is the fourth largest energy consumer in the world after the United States, China, and Russia. India was the fourth largest consumer of oil and petroleum products in the world in 2011, after the United States, China, and Japan.” While Indian oil imports still primarily come from the Middle East, like its competitor China, New Delhi is increasingly focusing on Africa, from where the news is most decidedly mixed.

According to the EIA’s country analysis for India, “The second biggest source of imports is Africa (17 percent), with the majority of that oil coming from Nigeria.”

Which presents a problem – piracy, which in Africa is shifting increasingly from east to west.

Somalia, which has captured the bulk of piracy headlines for years, has seen its problems diminish, thanks to intense foreign naval efforts, in Somalia last year attacks declined. In 2012 there were 297 pirate attacks and 28 hijackings worldwide, according to the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Center, with 75 incidents attributed to Somali pirates, who captured 250 hostages.

But the problem has simply migrated from East African to West African waters.  The IMB reported, “Worldwide, the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) recorded 138 piracy incidents in the first six months of 2013, compared with 177 incidents for the corresponding period in 2012… In the Gulf of Guinea, in addition to a rise in piracy and armed robbery – 31 incidents so far this year, including four hijackings – IMB reports a surge in kidnappings at sea and a wider range of ship types being targeted. This is a new cause for concern in a region already known for attacks against vessels in the oil industry and theft of oil from tankers.”

IMB director Pottengal Mukundan noted, “There has been a worrying trend in the kidnapping of crew from vessels well outside the territorial limits of coastal states in the Gulf of Guinea. In April 2013, nine crew members were kidnapped from two container vessels, one of which was 130 nautical miles from the coast. Pirates have used motherships, some of which were smaller off-shore supply vessels hijacked by pirates to conduct the attacks. There continues to be significant under-reporting of attacks – a phenomenon highlighted by the IMB year on year. This prevents meaningful response by the authorities and endangers other vessels sailing into the area unaware of the precise nature of the threat.”

Beginning in 2011 piracy in the Gulf of Guinea escalated from “snatch and grab” armed robberies to more high profile and sophisticated hijackings and cargo thefts. In response to the rising anarchy, last year the London-based Lloyd's Market Association insurers listed Nigeria, Benin and surrounding waters in the same risk category as Somalia.

India’s response?

According to senior government officials speaking on condition of anonymity, New Delhi is preparing to increase its training and cooperation with West African navies to bolster abilities to battle pirates. A senior official noted, “We’re ready to offer them any help they need. The Somalia piracy is decreasing; it’s in the Gulf of Guinea that we need to cooperate with allies to tackle this menace.”

It will be a no insubstantial task, as the Gulf of Guinea nations comprise Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Congo and the northern stretch of Angola, from where Indian and tankers carrying West African oil set sail to India. Of these nations, the only ones with any substantive maritime capability are Nigeria and Ghana, leaving vast swathes of coastline essentially undefended.

But the Indian navy will not be starting from scratch. Beginning in 2011, India sent its naval ships to escort vessels,  both Indian and foreign, to the Gulf of Aden in cooperation with the U.S., the Russian Federation, EU, China, Iran and other nations to suppress Somali piracy.

But, given the Somali experience, the major question before Delhi is whether it has the finances and stomach to quash definitely a problem that has existed since men first took to the sea, especially if it has to pursue the goal of protecting its energy assets largely alone.

By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com




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