ShippingWatch

New ECSA president calls on EU to combat piracy in West Africa

The security situation in the Gulf of Guinea off the coast of West Africa is unstable. The EU should protect ships against pirates far more than is the case today, Claes Berglund, new president of the European shipowners, tells ShippingWatch.

Ved årets begyndelse overtog Claes Berglund posten som formand for ECSA. Photo: PR/Stena

The EU should take more action to protect European ships from pirate attacks in the waters off the coast of West Africa.

The number of pirate attacks and kidnappings in West Africa's Gulf of Guinea increased significantly last year. During 2019, 121 seafarers were kidnapped in the region, an increase of more than 50 percent compared to 78 in 2018.

There are different ways – economic ways, diplomatic and military. I don't know which is the best. EU has to decide which is the best"

Claes Berglund, president, ECSA

This development is obviously worrying, says Claes Berglund, who recently took over as president of the European Community Shipowners' Associations, ECSA.

"EU should do more to protect the trade that EU shipping is conducting. There are different ways – economic ways, diplomatic and military. I don't know which is the best. EU has to decide which is the best, but we would absolutely like to see more protection of the trade than we see today," he says in an interview with ShippingWatch.

Escalation in number of attacks

In early December, a VLCC ship from Navios, managed by Anglo Eastern, was attacked off the coast of Nigeria. 19 seafarers were kidnapped by armed pirates who sailed up alongside the ship and boarded it.

Less than two weeks later, another tanker vessel was attacked. This hijacking happened off Togo, where 20 crew members were kidnapped. The ship was released this week along with the crew members, of which one had died due to illness.

This will likely not be the last time the international shipping community hears about the pirates. Risk Intelligence expects that hijackings and kidnappings will continue for the next two years, warned the company in a recent report for the tanker sector.

Shipping companies have reached the limit

This is not the first time the European shipowners call for action. As recently as October last year, ECSA called on the EU member states to get involved. The calls were followed up by association Danish Shipping a month later, when nine crew members were kidnapped from a Norwegian vessel.

"Our members are doing what they can to protect themselves when sailing in the unsafe waters west of Africa, but they've reached the threshold of what they themselves can do," said Maria Skipper Schwenn, deputy director of safety, environment and maritime research at Danish Shipping, in a statement.

The international shipping sector has for long time pointed to West Africa as a new conflict zone, after piracy incidents at the Horn of Africa and off Somalia have been more or less eradicated.

(...) they've reached the threshold of what they themselves can do"

Maria Skipper Schwenn, deputy director of safety, environment and maritime research, Danish Shipping

In the fall, interest group Bimco called on the world's superpowers to take action against piracy. The EU, China and the US should join forces and deploy naval capacity in the Gulf of Guinea, said Bimco's head of maritime security.

According to ECSA President Berglund, the association has discussed the issue with the EU Commission, but without much to show for it. Now he hopes that ECSA can start a proper dialog with the new Commission, so that "things can get going," as he says.

English Edit: Daniel Logan Berg-Munch

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