Piracy Threatens West Africa Oil Expansion

UNITED NATIONS (APF) - Piracy is a growing threat to West Africa's plans to double oil production over the next decade and is already having a devastating impact on ports, the U.N. Security Council was warned Monday.

A growing number of attacks are being recorded in the Gulf of Guinea and entries into some ports have been cut by more than two-thirds as insurance premiums skyrocket, ministers and officials told a council debate on piracy.

Industry groups and governments had been planning to increase oil production in West African countries from the current four million barrels a day to eight million over the next decade.

With West African states increasingly dependent on the oil revenues, "the consequence of unchecked piracy on both their economies and the world economy cannot be underestimated," Abdel-Fatau Musah, director of political affairs for the Economic Community of West African States commission told the council.

There were 21 attacks on ships off the Benin coast last year and from January to October 2011 there were also 14 attacks off Nigeria, seven off Togo, two off Ghana and one off Ivory Coast, said Issifou N'Douro, Benin's defense minister.

Two weeks ago, gunmen shot dead the captain and chief engineer of a cargo ship off the Nigerian coast.

"The threats weighing on the Gulf of Guinea are colossal. These are threats to international peace and security and must be treated as such by the international community," N'Douro warned.

N'Douro gave a grim picture of the impact on the port of Cotonou which carries 90% of Benin's trade as well as acting as a vital conduit for neighboring Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad.

Revenues from Cotonou port provide 80% of Benin's government budget, the minister said. But the number of ships using Cotonou has fallen by 70% since the attacks started.

"With the doubling of insurance premiums, several ships have decided not to use the port of Cotonou's services and the revenues from these activities are critical to the state," N'Douro said.

Many governments see the piracy adding to their security troubles on top of growing narcotics trafficking, political unrest, attacks by al Qaeda followers and a mounting food crisis across the Sahel region.

Benin and Nigeria already stage joint maritime patrols in the Gulf of Guinea but Ecowas and government envoys called for more international help. Western nations said they are ready to do more if it is to back a regional initiative against pirates.

"There can be no doubt that the situation has become more grave," said U.S. ambassador Susan Rice. With some estimates of pirating attacks costing $2 billion a year, she called the impact on hard-pressed regional economies "staggering."

The Security Council is negotiating a resolution on piracy off West Africa which has been proposed by Togo, president of the 15-nation council in February.


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