The global shipping industry has declared a victory of sorts over Somali pirates. Upgrades—from crew safe rooms to armed guards—as well as improved international military coordination and maritime standards, have taken their toll on those gangs. The number of incidents peaked in 2011, when 40 attacks were recorded in November alone. By 2012, that figure had dropped to 15 successful attacks off the East African coast, according to U.N. data.
But the victory has come at a high cost. In fact, one analysis from Quartz suggested the shipping companies would be better off simply handing over suitcases full of cash: Annual revenue for the Somali pirates has been estimated at $120 million, versus a price tag for security and upgrades estimated at between $1 billion and $3 billion. As a result, some piracy experts worry about complacency setting in given the recent gains, especially for an industry constantly under margin pressure looking to cut costs.
There is more to protect than ever before. It's no coincidence that a new crew of pirates has beefed up its operations in the Gulf of Guinea on Africa's Western coast at the same time that Somali piracy has weakened. The gulf's pirates are operating in waters off of many of Africa's oil and gas-rich nations, including Nigeria, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Gabon and Angola.
Africa's proven oil reserves have grown by nearly 120 percent in the past three decades, from 57 billion barrels in 1980 to 124 billion barrels in 2012, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The EIA estimates that there are at least another 100 billion barrels in offshore deposits.
To protect one of the world's scarcest and most valuable natural resources will require an anti-piracy effort in the Gulf of Guinea to match that to combat Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden. It also must take into account the unique nature of the oil and gas offshore business, the lack of a comprehensive regional plan among Western African nations and the financial infrastructure of pirate finance onshore, experts said.