[Dehai-WN] (Reuters): INTERVIEW-West Africa regional force mooted to fight pirates

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From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Wed Aug 24 2011 - 17:46:11 EDT

INTERVIEW-West Africa regional force mooted to fight pirates

Wed Aug 24, 2011 5:51pm GMT

* Piracy threatens vital trade routes in Gulf of Guinea

* Nigeria already working with Benin on counter-piracy

By Jonathan Saul

LONDON, Aug 24 (Reuters) - West African countries are discussing the
creation of a regional force to tackle growing piracy in the Gulf of Guinea,
a senior Nigerian government official said on Wednesday.

Piracy is a growing threat to shipping in West Africa's Gulf of Guinea -- a
major source of oil, metals and agricultural products to world markets --
with a spate of attacks off Benin this year marking an expansion in the area
pirates operate.

Oyewole Olugbenga Leke, senior special assistant to Nigerian President
Goodluck Jonathan on maritime services, said West African countries were
looking at a regional initiative to combat the growing threat.

"What they are trying to do is coastal states will provide from their
military forces men and platforms to man the Gulf of Guinea," he told

"Talks and discussions are on," he said on the sidelines of a Hanson Wade
West African piracy conference in London.

Oyewole said under plans being discussed, any arrangement would work
"without jeopardising the territorial integrity of any nation."

"We are hoping it is going to come out to be a real force in the sub region
to combat piracy," he said.

"It is being handled in Nigeria at the level of the national security
adviser, which is directly under the president to tell the seriousness which
Nigeria handles it," he said.

Oyewole said Nigeria and Benin were already tackling piracy jointly.

Stretching from Guinea on Africa's northwestern tip down to Angola in the
south, the Gulf spans a dozen countries.

Separately, a U.S. government official said last week that Benin was
thinking of asking the United Nations to help set up an international naval
force to tackle security issues in the Gulf of Guinea. There was no
confirmation from either Benin's government or the U.N. but a U.N. source
told Reuters the request had already been made. [ID:nL5E7JG1L8]


Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is not on the scale of that off Somalia, but
analysts say an increase in scope and number of attacks in a region
ill-equipped to counter the threat could affect shipping and investment.

"Most of the states do not even have enough money to provide the required
equipment for surveillance," Oyewole said.

"We need enough satellite coverage of the coast. We need to know where ships
are -- smugglers switch off their AIS facilities," he said, referring to
tracking systems on board vessels.

Oyewole, who was appointed by Jonathan earlier this year to coordinate
maritime activities in Nigeria, said the government had stepped up efforts
this year to combat attacks on merchant shipping as well as bringing in the
private sector to ensure offshore oil platforms were properly maintained.

Sabotage attacks and gangs stealing crude oil, known as bunkering, has been
a serious problem in the Niger Delta oil heartland for years, although an
amnesty for militants in 2009 brought a halt to major attacks.

Jonathan is the first Nigerian president from the Niger Delta and his
government aims to boost development in the impoverished area, which
provides the bulk of the country's income but has long been neglected.

Oyewole said retraining programmes for former militants had helped stem

"Most of the militant heads are now very responsible people assisting the
government in various ways," he said.

"Our (crude oil) production at the peak of the militancy was around 700,000
barrels per day. Now it has gone to 2.3 million barrels a day that is to
tell you that attacks on Shell facilities currently have not increased
rather they have reduced," he said, referring to oil major Royal Dutch
Shell's (RDSa.L: <http://af.reuters.com/stocks/quote?symbol=RDSa.L> Quote)
operations Nigeria. (Additional reporting by David Lewis in Dakar; editing
by James Jukwey)

C Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved


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