West, Central African nations pledge to cooperate on piracy

West and Central African ministers have pledged to cooperate to halt the spread of sea piracy in the region at a meeting in Benin, West African bloc ECOWAS said Wednesday.

Ministers in charge of defence, foreign affairs and security or their representatives met in Cotonou until late Tuesday on a cooperation plan that will be submitted to a summit of regional heads of state, ECOWAS said in a statement.

A statement from the Economic Community of Central African States said plans included establishing a regional base to help fight maritime crime.

The ministers met to ratify documents to lead toward more cooperation to combat piracy, which has begun to spread to other countries after long being a problem off nations such as Nigeria.

For example in Benin, a nation of some nine million people which neighbours Nigeria, the number of sea piracy attacks rose from one in 2010 to 44 in 2011, ECOWAS said.

The plan is to include cooperation protocols between the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the 10-country Economic Community of Central African States.

"This code of conduct is the new legal line of our cooperation to put an end to insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea," Benin Foreign Minister Nassirou Arifari Bako told AFP, referring to the gulf off West Africa.

Much of the piracy off West Africa has involved the hijacking of tankers with the aim of stealing fuel cargo for sale on the region's lucrative black market.