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Characteristics Of Nigerian Piracy: 5 Key Features

Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea have been considered the most dangerous area for piracy for some time now. Pirates use similar attack methods to their Somali counterparts, but their business model and onshore connections differ. This article will discuss five aspects of Nigerian piracy which make these acts unique and identifiable.



Here's what we'll cover:

  1. Use of geography

  2. Primary targets

  3. Pirates business model

  4. Ties with organised crime

  5. Areas with the highest incidents


1. Use of geography

All acts of Nigerian piracy make use of geography to maximise success.


The geography in question centres around the Niger River which is the main river which flows through Nigeria.


The river splits to form the Niger Delta, spreading for 200 miles across the coastline with small and intricate riverways with dense vegetation.


Kidnapping is the primary business model used by Nigerian pirates to make money.

This geography is why it is hard to estimate how many attacks use motherships as the winding pathways of the delta make it hard to know where the small vessels originated. Hideaways are therefore created, which can be navigated by pirates to plan, launch and return from attacks with the vegetation making it hard to spot pirate bases.


Such hideaways make it challenging to identify where kidnapping victims are being held and make escape nearly impossible without local knowledge.





2. Attacks mainly target the oil industry.

Nigerian piracy mainly targets vessels within the oil industry. As the Niger Delta is rich with oil, international companies have set up operations there.


As a result, many ships related to the oil industry, including tankers, support vessels, floating storage vessels and to a lesser extent, cargo and tug boats, sail in the area.



Due to the vast amounts of money within the oil and shipping industries, these ships are the main target of Nigerian piracy.

However, other ships like non-oil affiliated cargo and trawlers are also targeted.



3. Kidnapping is the primary business model used by Nigerian pirates to make money.

Nigerian pirates adopted the kidnapping model of piracy after plummeting oil prices in 2014 made oil syphoning from tankers less lucrative. These attacks involve large amounts of organisations.


Attacks occur with a 5-10 man boarding party who are heavily armed and fire upon the vessel to intimidate the crew. Clashes with security or government forces can also take place.


Attacks occur with a 5-10 man boarding party who are heavily armed

When on board, the pirates will steal all available valuables and take the entire crew hostage instead of a handful of people. Physical assaults in this stage of the kidnapping are common, and people are sometimes killed. When gaining hostages, the general rule is that the whiter the captive's skin, the higher the ransom.


The hostages are then taken up the Niger Delta to hideaways where ransoms are usually in the hundreds of thousands region instead of millions compared to their Somali counterparts.


These are usually negotiated by families or the oil companies. Cargo seizure is the next most popular business model and also requires the same amount of logistics and organisation.



4. Nigerian piracy has close links to other forms of crime within Nigeria.

Piracy in Nigeria relies on informal criminal networks for operations to be successful. Dock officials can gain access to ports and identify ship locations, and police and navy can be bribed to avoid patrolling.




Links to militants, terror groups such as Boko Haram and traditional organised crime are essential for getting weapons and ammunition and selling contraband gained through pirate raids.


Connections to organised crime stretch as far as Eastern Europe and Asia.

Connections to organised crime stretch as far as Eastern Europe and Asia. Corrupt officials are also crucial for the success of Nigerian piracy. It is important to note that despite many allegations, only 1.5% of cases between 2009-2018 had proven corruption, but establishing corrupt involvement is problematic.



5. Most Nigerian piracy is committed within the Nigerian exclusive economic zone.

As defined by the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea, a country's exclusive economic zone stretches 200 nautical miles from shore. The government has exclusive rights to this area.


As piracy is mainly focused around the Niger Delta, most piracy occurs within this exclusive economic zone. This has consequences for acts of piracy such as hijacking, as the Nigerian navy is apprehensive about letting international navies operate in its exclusive economic zone.


As the Nigerian navy has not been effective in combating piracy's threat, there is not much hope for a government solution to the problem. Moreover, given the allegations of corruption, it is likely that these attacks will continue in the economic zone as pirates will have access to information and networks to allow attacks closer to shore, which reduces risk. According to the ICC, despite this, attacks have gone down since 2020.


To Summarise

Nigerian piracy has endemic features in Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea. Piracy targets vessels in the oil industry with help from criminal connections and corrupt officials.


Pirates operate mainly from the Niger Delta and use kidnapping as their primary business model. Piracy mostly takes place within Nigeria's exclusive economic zone, which helps in the success rate of their operations due to corrupt involvement and being closer to hideouts within the Niger Delta.


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