The recent seizure of a U.S.-flagged oil-industry vessel and its American captain and chief engineer off the coast of west Africa signals the replacement of Somalia by Nigeria as the chief source of African piracy.
Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991. Nigeria has had a government since it gained independence in 1960, and also has a sizable navy, including aircraft. A functioning government that enforces law and order onshore is, or should be, the most important element in preventing piracy.
Amid the growing frequency of piracy waged against ships off Somalia’s coast, the global community mounted a naval task force — including expensive participation by U.S. Navy vessels — to put Somali-based pirates out of business. The danger to ships passing the Somali coast in the Indian Ocean has been reduced by international patrols, strict prosecution of captured pirates, and more private security guards on ships.
So the focus of Africa’s piracy problem has shifted to the continent’s west coast. The C-Retriever, owned by a Louisiana company, was captured near the Nigerian port of Brass. The two Americans on board were taken hostage.
Nigeria’s government is riddled by corruption; its tolerance of lawbreaking includes an unwillingness to crack down on pirates in its chaotic Niger River delta area. The government forbids oil companies there to employ private guards.
Nigeria must put the pirates out of business, on land and at sea, unless it prefers to relinquish authority off its coast to an armed global force. Piracy cannot be allowed in the 21st century, with Nigeria joining Somalia in the disorganization and corruption that make it possible.