Surge in piracy off West Africa in 2018: maritime watchdog

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Pirate attacks rose worldwide in 2018 due to a surge off West Africa, a maritime watchdog said on Wednesday, calling for increased international cooperation to halt the spate of hijackings and kidnappings.

There were 201 recorded incidents of maritime piracy and armed robbery last year, up from 180 in 2017, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said in its annual piracy report.

“There is an urgent need for increased cooperation and sharing of intelligence between the Gulf of Guinea's littoral states so that effective action can be taken against pirates, a bureau spokesman said.

Reports of attacks in waters between the Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of Congo more than doubled, accounting for all six hijackings worldwide, 13 of 18 ships fired upon, and the vast majority of kidnap-for-ransom cases, the Kuala Lumpur-based IMB said.

Significant spike in violence

The last quarter of 2018 saw a significant spike in violence off West Africa, with vessels boarded by pirates well outside territorial waters, and crew kidnapped and taken to Nigeria where they were held for ransom, the report said.

In that period, 41 kidnappings were recorded in waters off Nigeria alone, the IMB added, saying that pirates are reaching further out to sea and targeting a wider variety of ships, from fishing boats to bulk carriers.

The Gulf of Guinea, a coastal zone stretching thousands of kilometers off West Africa, has now eclipsed the Gulf of Aden -- off the Horn of Africa -- as the continent's piracy hotspot.

Piracy in the Gulf, home to Sub-Saharan Africa's two main oil producers Nigeria and Angola, has seriously disrupted international shipping routes and cost the global economy billions of dollars.

Countries in the region, whose surveillance and maritime defense capabilities are limited, have been trying for several years to bolster their means of intervention and to put in place closer collaboration, with the help of the United States and France.

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