African states join forces to tackle piracy

Yaounde - West and central African nations have agreed to create a regional centre for co-ordinating the fight against a sharp rise in piracy in the Gulf of Guinea that is jeopardising the shipping of commodities in the region.

The Gulf of Guinea, which includes Nigeria, Ghana and Ivory Coast, is a major source of oil and cocoa and increasingly metals for world markets.

Pirate attacks in the region, mainly carried out by armed Nigerian gangs, have almost doubled from last year, jacking up insurance costs.

The main purpose of the new centre, to be based in Cameroon, will be intelligence gathering and research, according to an agreement signed at a summit of regional leaders in the Cameroonian capital Yaounde.

"No country can withstand the growing challenges individually. That is why we agreed to put our efforts together to end the illicit activities in the Gulf of Guinea," Chad's President Idriss Deby, who chairs the Economic Community of Central African States, told a news conference.

West and Central African governments agreed to fund the centre but they also appealed to international donors and Western governments for financial assistance, a statement issued after the meeting said.

Piracy hotspot

Intelligence from the centre would be shared among regional governments, whose leaders also signed a non-binding code of ethics on the prevention of maritime crime, the statement said.

Data from watchdog the International Maritime Bureau showed there had been 67 attacks in the Gulf of Guinea from January until mid-June, versus 34 in the same period last year.

International navies are not actively engaged in counter-piracy missions in the region, unlike in the waters off Somalia, the piracy hotspot on the other side of the continent.

A study by advocacy group Oceans Beyond Piracy in June estimated piracy in the Gulf of Guinea cost the world economy between $740m and $950m last year and the cost is expected to rise in 2013.

The number of attacks in Somalia has fallen markedly since 2011 thanks to tougher security aboard ships and the increased Western naval patrols.

However, piracy emanating from the Horn of Africa nation may still cost the world economy about $18bn a year, the World Bank said in April.

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