From East to West: Piracy in Africa

Morgan Lorraine Roach /

At the beginning of the month, Lloyd’s of London, the world’s leading marine insurance market, designated Nigeria and Benin as “war-risk” zones due to an escalation of piracy. While the vast of majority of the world’s pirate attacks take place off the Horn of Africa and more specifically in the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Guinea has become a popular target for pirates looking to make a quick buck.

The Gulf of Guinea is a major trade hub, and neighboring countries are increasingly sources of oil, metals, cotton and cocoa. Nigeria and Benin are the most affected, with 22 attacks since the beginning of the year, but other countries such as Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea have also suffered attacks. Nigeria, as Africa’s largest source of oil production, is particularly dependent on secure waters for export. As piracy in the region increases, ships are forced to reroute. Trade flows are disrupted, and the added cost is shifted to consumers.

Nearly 80 percent of global commerce is transported by sea, as it is the most efficient and cost-effective manner of cargo travel. The threat of piracy places an undue burden on the global market. While it does not pose a direct threat to U.S. vital national interests, piracy hinders global commerce—on which national security and prosperity depend. The United States imports more oil from Nigeria than from any other African country (25 percent of U.S. oil imports by 2015) and is Abuja’s second largest trading partner overall. Additionally, West African countries lose nearly $1 billion in oil annually due to piracy.

The United States and the international community cannot afford to lose billions every year to criminals on the high seas. Ensuring that commerce continues freely and safely is imperative to the global economy. The U.S. must broaden its focus on piracy from the Horn of Africa to West Africa. While piracy in the Gulf of Guinea continues to affect global commerce, the threat to the west must not go unchecked.

Jessica Zuckerman contributed to this blog post.