© Reuters. CAN FILE PHOTO: A naval officer handles a machine gun on a ship off the Atlantic coast in Nigeri’s Bayelsa state.
By Libby George LAGOS (Reuters) – Kidnappings by pirates in the Gulf of Guinea hit a record in 2020, with violent and well-armed gangs defying regional navies and prowling offshore, a report from the International Maritime Bureau said on Wednesday. Pirates in the West African region kidnapped 130 sailors in 22 separate incidents, accounting for all but five of those captured worldwide last year. The previous record, in 2019, was 121. The IMB’s annual piracy report said that general incidents of armed robbery and piracy rose to 195 last year, up from 162 in 2019, an increase that was attributed to attacks in the Gulf of Guinea and armed robbery in the Singapore Strait. “The latest statistics confirm the increasing capabilities of pirates in the Gulf of Guinea with more and more attacks taking place further offshore,” said IMB Director Michael Howlett. “Despite the prompt action of the navies in the region, there remains an urgent need to address this crime,” he added. The Gulf covers 2.3 million square kilometers (888,000 square meters) and borders more than a dozen countries, but experts say the majority of pirates operate outside of Nigeria’s delta region. Although the region produces most of the oil for Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil exporter, its economy is underdeveloped and there are limited jobs for the local population.