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Pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea have increasingly targeted international cargo tankers, with roughly $100 million (74 million euros) in product stolen since 2010, a risk analysis group said Thursday, revealing new details about regional unrest.
The nature of maritime crime off Nigeria, Togo and Benin has sparked debate in recent months, with some prominent organisations calling it an emerging piracy hub where attacks are on the rise.
But the Denmark-based Risk Intelligence challenged that claim, telling AFP that while the nature of the targets has changed, the number of attacks has actually gone down since an amnesty deal was struck in 2009 with rebels in Nigeria's oil-producing south.
"It has been declining since amnesty was imposed," said Dirk Steffen, head of maritime security at Risk Intelligence, which closely tracks the region.
What has changed, he said, is the type of ships being attacked, leading to a spike in the number of reported incidents.
"The difference now... is that there have been more targeted attacks against product-carrying tankers," Steffen told AFP.
"Most ships that are involved in international trade tend to report when they are attacked," he said.
In the past, pirates typically raided local or regional vessels, whose crews had various motivations, including political ones, to keep quiet after being robbed.
The International Maritime Bureau, which is funded by ship owners, said in July that armed robbery and kidnappings at sea had been surging off west Africa.
The IMB has over the last 18 months repeatedly cited a rise in attacks in the region.
While Risk Intelligence disputes that narrative, the Danish group said pirates in the Gulf of Guinea are making more money than ever.
A statement from the group described the coordinated attacks on large commercial tankers as "a relatively new type of crime" that has become "highly lucrative."
"An estimated 117,000 metric tons of product worth approximately $100 million (74 million euros) has been stolen since 2010," the statement said.
For Steffen, the solution to the scourge has to come from Nigeria's government.
"The backers and sponsors are Nigerians. The buyers and brokers of stolen cargo are Nigerians and the attack teams are Nigerians," he said, noting that the pirates may get some "logistical help" from accomplices in Benin, Ghana and Togo.
Nigeria is Africa's top oil producer, generating some two million barrels per day from onshore and deepwater fields in the Niger Delta, which falls along the Gulf of Guinea.
Many of the targeted vessels have been laden with crude oil, destined for refineries around the world.