A chilling threat is facing seamen in a key shipping route as violent assaults and kidnapping by pirates has developed into a "curse".
In 2020, 135 crew were kidnapped from ships across the world, with the Gulf of Guinea, a key shipping route from Senegal to Angola, accounting for more than 95 per cent of them.
"This has happened in international waters in an area less than 20 per cent of the size of the sea area dominated by Somali pirates a few years ago," a statement from BIMCO, the largest international shipping association, said.
"The pirates launch their attacks from the Niger Delta, where they also subsequently hold their hostages."
Major international shipping and maritime companies are calling for a union to combat piracy in the Gulf of Guinea after armed kidnappings reached record levels last year.
BIMCO claims there are growing concerns over increasing attacks on seafarers who have become victims of heinous and violent crimes while carrying out their work.
"The piracy problem in the Gulf of Guinea has developed into a curse for seafarers over the past decade," BIMCO says.
"In 2021, the threat that looms for all seafarers going to the region is being kidnapped at gunpoint for ransom.
"While overall numbers of pirate attacks are largely unchanged, the violence, scope and sophistication of the attacks on shipping has continued to increase and today take place across an area of more than 200 nautical miles form the pirate bases that are principally located within the Niger Delta."
Human toll of piracy 'unacceptably high'
A group of about 100 shippers, maritime companies and trade associations have signed a declaration released on Monday calling for more cooperation to curb piracy in the region, which accounted for almost all maritime abductions in 2020.
Several EU nations already often have naval vessels in the area, but pirate gangs are increasingly attacking beyond Nigeria's coastal waters, where they know ships are more vulnerable.
The declaration states the human toll of piracy was "unacceptably high" as seafarers were affected by kidnapping, psychological trauma or death.
It also claims the attacks are preventable and an active naval force with very few assets conducting law enforcement could deter and suppress piracy. It says the number of attacks should be reduced by at least 80 per cent by 2023.
'You feel so helpless'
In one of the incidents this year, 15 crew members were kidnapped in March from a Dutch-based De Poli tanker off the coast of Benin. They were released in April more than a month after they were snatched.
"You feel so helpless when something like this happens to one of your ships and its crew," Chiara de Poli, chief executive of De Poli tankers, told AFP.
"We are calling on the international community to put a plan in action to stop these rising incidents of piracy."
Denmark, a major shipping nation, in March said it will dispatch a naval frigate with dozens of marines onboard to deter pirate attacks on commercial ships there.
Denmark has been pushing for a stronger international naval presence in the Gulf of Guinea, where pirates race in speed boats out of bases hidden in Nigeria's Delta region to snatch crew from vessels.
"We recognise the important steps taken and positive initiatives underway by coastal States in the region," Monday's declaration said, referring to Nigeria and its neighbours.
"We call on all stakeholders to ... join together in a coalition to end the threat of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea."
The statement called for more cooperation among local and other naval forces, capacity building and intelligence sharing, as well as measures to take on and arrest criminal gangs onshore.
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