Over the past decade, the western Indian Ocean unexpectedly emerged as a hotbed for maritime crime as pirates -- safe-havened in Somalia -- menaced seafarers as far east as the Maldives. Shipping companies have been hit hard, with one estimate placing the direct costs of Somali piracy at $5.5 billion in 2011. Despite a multinational naval flotilla deployed to counter the pirates, attacks continued to grow last year.Now pirates are setting up shop in West Africa, specifically in the Gulf of Guinea.
At immediate risk is the Gulf of Guinea. New oil fields have started to come online in the region, bringing increased tanker traffic. Many of the gulf nations are weak, buffeted by insurgents and armed criminal gangs. Piracy-monitoring organizations have already noticed a recent shift in the nature of pirate attacks there from low-level armed robbery to full-scale hijack-for-ransom. Worse still, these West African pirates seem more inclined to use violence against crewmembers, with accounts surfacing of bloody beatings and merciless stabbings. Such brutality increases the pressure on insurance companies to settle ransom negotiations faster and speeds up the pirates’ ability to turn over ships. It should be noted that this vulnerability may be particularly acute for new oil-producing states, which may not yet have the naval and coast guard assets to at least minimally deter or interdict pirate groups.To date, the "international community" has been nearly useless. For the first few years, the Europeans practiced Catch and Release with pirates, because they didn't want to be bothered prosecuting them. Though a few have been handed off to Kenya, and few others have been killed, a poor villager from Somalia probably isn't deterred by the conditions in European jails.
Even with International Task Force 51, or whatever the naval force in the West Indian Ocean is calling itself, the number of attacks went up last year.
Ships have finally begun boarding armed guards, but this is problematic, causes problems in several countries that don't like guns, and when the guards have to be off-loaded or disarmed in ports and anchorages they are still at risk. But this has been slow to gain traction. And so most are vessels are slow-moving treasure troves.