The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has stated that piracy in Nigeria and other parts of the West African sub-region is different from piracy in Somalian coast.
Reacting to last weekend's attack by gunmen on an oil barge in the Niger Delta, which claimed the lives of two soldiers and one crew member, the Head of Maritime Security at IMO, Mr. Chris Trelawny, told Arise News that unlike in West Africa, piracy in Somalia was all about kidnapping for ransom.
According to him, the target of pirates in the West African coast is to steal crude oil or petroleum products, while in Somalia the target is to seize ships and crewmembers for ransom.
Asked if the latest attack in the Niger Delta was not an indication that the Gulf of Guinea was becoming the new Somali coast, Trelawny said: "I don't believe it is. We have seen a number of piracy attacks and armed robberies against ships in West Africa for a number of years. The piracy in West Africa is different from the piracy in Somalia. In Somalia, it is primarily about kidnapping for ransom; it is about seizing the ship; seizing the crew until ransom is paid. In West Africa, it is primarily about theft. In this case, it is about oil theft - theft of hydrocarbons and that is the target.
"So, when the ship is taken, it is held but once the oil is removed, the ship is released," he said.
He noted that the number of attacks reported in the last two years had been relatively consistent.
According to him, the number of piracy attacks reported through the IMO in 2012 was five per cent lower than the previous year.
"The reason for increased focus on piracy in West Africa is probably because piracy in Somalia is decreasing and partly because the United Nations Security Council is taking an interest in its high profile," he said.
On how the pirates are able to siphon crude oil or petroleum products from a ship at the high sea, Trelawny stated that piracy and armed robbery are shore-based criminal activities.
He said while piracy thrives in Somalia because they do not have a fully functional government and the rule of law, most West African states have fully functional states with enforcement capability, adding that the task is how to harness these capabilities to check the menace.
He stated that his organisation was working with the states in the region to promote a joint approach to maritime security and maritime law enforcement across the board.
"Piracy and armed robbery are one of the several crimes in the region today. Illegal fishing is a major strategic threat in the region. Smuggling of drugs, weapons and people also require legal framework and successful prosecution. We are also working with regional blocs such as the ECOWAS because it is a transnational crime," he added.