Pirate attacks off Africa's west coast in the Gulf of Guinea are increasing and becoming more violent, sophisticated and systematic, the U.N. political chief said Monday.
Undersecretary-General B. Lynn Pascoe told the U.N. Security Council that the International Maritime Organization received 45 reports of piracy incidents involving seven west and central African nations in 2010 _ and 64 reports of attacks involving nine countries last year.
In the first two months of this year, he said, the IMO has already recorded 10 piracy incidents off the coasts of Benin, Congo, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria.
"In addition, we know that not all piracy incidents are systematically reported," Pascoe said.
He said Gulf of Guinea countries need a united front to respond to the growing piracy threat and urged leaders from west and central Africa to hold a summit as early as possible this year to develop an anti-piracy strategy for the wider region.
Despite some national and regional efforts, Pascoe said, "the threat has become even more alarming as the pirates have become more violent." He pointed to a pirate attack off Nigeria two weeks ago where the captain and engineer of a cargo ship were killed.
Pascoe said a mission sent to the region late last year by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, following a request from Benin to assess the piracy threat, found that pirates were "resorting to sophisticated modes of operations and utilizing heavy weapons."
"So far, the attacks have primarily targeted the lucrative cargo onboard the ships rather than taking hostages for ransom, which has been the practice off Somalia," he added.
As an example of the heavy cost, Pascoe said recent reports have suggested that Nigeria is losing an estimated 7 percent of its oil resources to criminal activities including piracy.
Benin's defense minister, Issifou Kogui N'Douro, told the council that the Port of Cotonou which accounts for 90 percent of Benin's trade, has seen a 70 percent decrease in the number of ship arrivals since the pirate attacks began. He said insurance rates have soared because of the piracy threat, which is another reason many ships are staying away.
Abdel-Fatau Musah, director of political affairs for the commission of the West Africa regional group ECOWAS, told the council that piracy is increasingly dovetailing into other forms of transnational organized crime, including human and drug trafficking and terrorism.
Musah said it's projected that in the next decade, the Gulf of Guinea _ with an estimated 14 billion barrels in oil reserves _ will double production from 4 million barrels per day to 8 million barrels per day.
With regional countries increasingly dependent on oil exports, he said, "the consequences of unchecked piracy on both their economies and the world economy cannot be underestimated."
While West African states, particularly Nigeria, Ghana, Benin and Senegal, are taking practical steps to police their waters, Musah said hardly any of those states can boast enough maritime capability beyond 100 nautical miles off the coast.