The Somali coast was known for its high rate of piracy. However, by 2021 the Gulf of Guinea had overtaken Somalia in its number of pirate attacks. Ironically in 2022, the number of deep sea- or blue water- attacks had dropped to virtually zero, leading to many questions about how and why this had happened?
There are different perspectives about the drop of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea but what we considered to be the main reason was the discovery of an easier illegal bunkering and artisanal alternative. This understanding was deduced from our engagement and interventions in the Niger Delta. For instance; The AAPW Executive Director and Deputy Director were involved in a UNODC project; studying and responding to changing trends in piracy in 2021, based on the report “Pirates of the Niger Delta”. This was further studied during an international visit in 2022 during which genuine pirates, illegal oil bunkerers and militants were brought by AAPW staff to meet with the visiting scholars and policy makers. The University of Copenhagen also funded a small study on the effects of the 2022 flood in Bayelsa State on piracy. Ironically it was discovered that the floods had both positive and negative effects on the pirates. On one hand, flooding reduced the boat traffic on the rivers and creeks, thereby reducing the potential targets for pirate attacks. On the other hand, the high waters opened up new areas further inland where the pirates could keep their hostages safe from discovery by security agents or other pirate gangs, who tend to kidnap the hostages of the original pirates/kidnappers.
There are interconnections of pirates, militants, illegal oil bunkerers and political thugs, but further study on the subject is necessary for clarity. However, individuals move among these criminal activities under varying conditions. For example, when there was an international push against pirates, many went into the “safer” business of stealing or distilling crude oil. Thus, with the recent government push to stop oil theft under the Tom Polo contract, some decided to leave that business. At the same time, some fisherfolk, due to climate change and decreasing fish stocks, are moving into riverine piracy to feed their families. It was also gathered that the 2023 elections also provided short term employment as political thugs for some jobless youth, while some became politicians themselves.
The lines and movement between these criminal activities are blurred and require frequent updates to understand the dynamics of youth in the Niger Delta.