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Opinions of Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Columnist: Yeboah, Kwame

Wake Up Ghana, The Pirates Are Coming

In recent weeks, there have been increased reports of pirates seizing ships in the Gulf of Guinea, just off the shores of Ghana including the seizure of a tanker carrying oil from Ghana. Yet, there has not been any official pronouncement on the recognition of the imminent threat to the security of our coastline in particular and the country as a whole.
With the recent development of piracy off the coastline of Somalia that is causing havoc to shipping and trade through the Suez Canal and in the Indian Ocean, I was thinking the least trace of an increase occurrence of such a phenomenon in our territorial waters will be dealt with all the seriousness it deserves.
It has been reported many times in international media that the Gulf of Guinea has become second only to Somalia in terms of piracy attacks in the world. This is not something we should brush aside. Already the Gulf area is home to an insurgency in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta, where they routinely attack oil facilities. The recent piracy addition is now turning the Gulf of Guinea into a region of increasing international concern. Some experts say that the waters of the Gulf of Guinea are at least as dangerous as those off the Somali coast, if not more so. Mr. Peter Pham, the Africa program director for the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, a New York think tank is reported to have said recently that whiles the International Maritime Board reports any movement against ships on the Gulf of Aden, they don’t keep reports from the Gulf of Guinea despite the fact that the number of attacks is believed to be equal to those off Somalia. This is really alarming.
As a result, a growing number of countries from the West including the United States, British, and France are reported to have sent ships to patrol this Gulf. But recent reports show that the scale of the problem is growing every day. It is reported that, on average, the Nigerian Navy hears of some 10 to 15 pirate attacks per month. With the capabilities of the navies of these West African countries being so small, and the fact that all the efforts of the developed world have not been able to curb a similar problem off the coast of Somalia, the pirates are bound to have the upper hand in the Gulf of Guinea. If serious effort is not made to fight it, this increase in piracy off our coast will mark a new trend that could further cripple the economy of one of the world's most struggling regions.
As the experience in Somalia indicates, piracy is difficult to fight. It rewards successful operations. Huge ransoms are paid by the ship owners for the return of vessels. As a result, pirate attacks in Somalia have developed from relatively unsophisticated raids on fishing trawlers to boarding large cargo ships, and now even huge oil tankers. The pirates have begun using satellite tracking devices, speedboats and heavy weaponry in their operations. It has been reported that, already in Nigeria, gangs, armed with automatic rifles and increasingly with rocket-propelled grenades, cruise along in speedboats and barges, finding covers in the maze of creeks and rivers intertwined with mangrove swamps that make up the delta where the River Niger empties into the Atlantic Ocean. According to the report, the activities of these gangs have drawn illegal oil buyers and arms traders to the Gulf of Guinea coast off Nigeria, making the region, which has always had high volumes of shipping traffic including oil tankers and general goods vessels, more dangerous.
Also, in a region where youth unemployment and its accompanying poverty is so high and where young men and women will do anything such as Sakawa, 419 and armed robbery for money, the pirate's ranks will swell by many of the region's youths - drawn by the potentially huge profits of an unconventional business enterprise that has been proven to be so successful in Somalia.
With the discovery of oil off the coast of Ghana, the hope of every Ghanaian has arisen. Even though our oil capacity is so small compared to others in the region, we are proud of what we have and have high hopes of managing the little financial resources it will bring to solve some of our problems. Are we going to use these meager proceeds from the little oil to pay ransom to pirates? In Somalia, it is believed that about $100 million is paid in ransoms to the pirates every year, and the threat of hijack is pushing up the cost of insurance and, therefore, the price of goods.
Secondly, because of the political conditions in Ghana including peace and stability of the nation, many of African countries to our north are using the ports of Ghana for shipping their imports and exports. Many multinational companies are using Ghana as the staging and entry point for their trade into Africa. With time, all these development will hopeful help to move us to the stage of development we aspire in Ghana. The least we need now is piracy on our coast. It is, therefore, incumbent upon us to recognize the problem and start doing something about it. I was hoping that by now a commission of security forces would have been set up to find ways to deal with the problem before it becomes too big for us.
Where are the ECOMOGs and peace keeping bodies we send everywhere there are conflicts in the world? If we need “di wo fie asem” this is it. We should remember, we cannot do it alone and we will need to mobilize the whole West African community. Even with that, we will as usual need international support from developed countries and shipping and business community. What are we waiting for? Are we waiting for someone else to poke us before we recognize our own problem before we seek help?
Kwame Yeboah

Harding University College of Pharmacy,
Searcy, Arkansas.