Angola working to counter piracy in the Gulf of Guinea

Angola working to counter piracy in the Gulf of Guinea

With acts of piracy and armed robbery becoming more prevalent in the Gulf of Guinea, Angola recently announced it will host an international conference on maritime security later this year. In order to counter piracy efforts in the region, however, effective cooperation on the regional level will need to be established.

On April 1st, Angolan Minister of Foreign Affairs Georges Chicoti announced that Angola will host an international conference on maritime and energetic security in Luanda in the second semester of this year, emphasizing that Angola considers maritime security to be very much linked to economic development.

It is expected that the forum will contribute to the establishment of closer regional and international cooperation, bringing together several partners, including those from the South Atlantic Peace and Cooperation Zone.

This announcement did not come out of the blue. One year ago, a Liberian-flagged Greek owned Kerala vessel, chartered by the Angolan national oil company Sonangol, was hijacked off the Angolan coast, and only returned after siphoning 8 million USD worth of diesel fuel from the ship. No incidents in Angola had been reported since 2011, and this hijacking was the southernmost incident to date, demonstrating the increased capability of criminal groups to successfully conduct activities in the wider Gulf of Guinea.

While counter piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden have proven to be quite successful, acts of piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea are becoming more prevalent. Such acts now represent more than a quarter of attacks reported worldwide. These attacks affect the shipment of five million barrels of oil per day, accounting for forty percent of European and twenty-nine percent of American imports.

In past years, the weakness of maritime policies in the Gulf of Guinea and the lack of cooperation between coastal states have allowed criminal networks to diversify their activities to piracy and increasingly well-planned sea-borne raids along the coastline. Regional rivalries concerning maritime borders still stand in the way of improving the volatile conditions on the continent’s Western coast.

However, regional and continental efforts to combat maritime raids have already been taking place. In June 2013, a regional summit in Yaoundé, Cameroon, bringing together Gulf countries, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the Gulf of Guinea Commission (GGC), agreed on a memorandum on maritime safety and security in Central and West Africa.

The memorandum set objectives and areas of cooperation, created a Code of Conduct concerning the fight against piracy, armed robbery against ships, and illicit maritime activity, and created an Inter-regional Coordination Centre (ICC) to implement a regional strategy for maritime safety and security.

Unfortunately, according to a recent International Crisis Group report, a lot remains to be done, including “the development of cooperation in A and B zones; and operationalisation of the Regional Coordination Centre for Maritime Security in Central Africa, which requires sustainable financial commitment.”

A lack of cooperation between the two regional blocs, West-Africa and Central Africa, has been identified as a major road block for regional stability, as well.

Changing demographics

In 2014, fewer attacks have been noted in the Gulf of Guinea vis-à-vis 2013. Remarkably, while the amount of attacks in Nigeria significantly decreased between 2013 and 2014, new attacks have been occurring in Angola, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, São Tomé & Principe and Liberia, proving that criminal groups are expanding their territory of operations.

With acts of piracy centrifugally moving away from Nigeria, Angloa’s biggest economic rival, the country is aware of this contemporary threat and wants to take the matter into its own hands. As the host of the Gulf of Guinea Commission (GGC), Angola might want to renew attention to its regional importance.

Angola recently stepped up its influence by taking the presidency of the Kimberley Process and securing the African non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council. The country is now trying to gain political weight in the field of maritime security, in order to maintain momentum and secure its role as a major player in the region. 

Threats to domestic economic and social stability

Angola’s emergence as a dominant player at the regional level of maritime affairs is not a mere coincidence. Being almost fully dependent on off-shore oil exports, Angola would like to preserve this lifeline as much as possible. The country has already suffered immensely from the global drop in oil prices and disruptions in its oil production.

Recently, the Angolan parliament passed a revised 2015 budget, cutting spending by 25 percent, a total of 17 billion USD. Details of exactly which programmes and ministries will receive less are still emerging, but social spending is projected to fall by 28.6 percent on previously budgeted levels.

The cuts affect both private sector expectations and popular discontent with social inequality. Enhancing investor confidence in its national security is therefore key to mitigating the deterioration of the domestic economic situation. Some major oil investors have already abandoned exploratory drills, while others are postponing investment plans.

All in all, the announcement of the regional conference could only be seen as logical. As regional cooperation in the relevant maritime zones continues to be lacking, chances are that increasingly audacious attacks will keep coming down South.

Additionally, since newly elected Nigerian president Buhari will likely allocate security resources to counter Boko Haram in the North East, there is a risk for deterioration in the maritime security of both Nigeria and the wider Gulf area. Facing elections in 2 years where the ruling MPLA could see its first true challenge, the government is likely to do all it can to prevent a worsening of its domestic economic conditions.

Altruistic self-interest

If Angola is serious about its renewed appearance in maritime security, this could only be good news for the regional stability. As it has one of the largest security forces in the region, enhanced cooperation could prove beneficial for the whole Gulf of Guinea.

However, being handcuffed by the recent budgetary cuts, it remains to be seen how these capabilities will evolve in the future. Since the EU and the US already promised to enhance cooperation in the field of maritime security, capabilities may not even be the major problem. The real key to success in combating counter piracy remains enhanced regional cooperation, making the upcoming conference an important step in the right direction.

Regional rivalries and power struggles, however, could jeopardize an effective long-term strategy to eradicate piracy in the region, and must be a caveat for all parties looking to find success from the upcoming conference.


About Author

Nick De Vlaminck

Nick De Vlaminck has worked for the Belgian Embassy to Senegal, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea and the Gambia, as well as for the European External Action Service where he worked in the Horn of Africa, East and Southern Africa, Indian Ocean Directorate. He holds a Master’s Degree in European Union Studies from Ghent University and an Advanced Master’s degree in Diplomacy & International Relations from the University of Antwerp, and has spent semesters abroad at the Marmara University in Turkey and the University of Coimbra in Portugal. Nick is proficient in Dutch, English, French and Portuguese.