Shipping organisations have joined forces to urge action on the increasing threat of piracy off West Africa.

Owners, flag states and agencies from the region met at the IMO in London for a symposium on maritime security.

Grahaeme Henderson, chair of the UK Shipping Defence Advisory Committee and vice president of Shell Shipping & Maritime, told delegates: “Simply put, the high level of piracy and armed robbery attacks in the Gulf of Guinea is not acceptable.

"Yet it is happening every day and this is not business as usual. We need to take urgent action now.”

Guy Platten, secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping, added: “It is unacceptable that seafarers are being exposed to such appalling dangers and we need the authorities to take action now.”

IMB figures show that the number of attacks in the Gulf of Guinea region doubled in 2018.

There has also been a marked increase towards kidnapping for ransom and armed robbery incidents.

Piracy expert professor Bertand Monnet, who has interviewed pirate gangs in the Niger Delta, estimated that there were approximately 10 groups of pirates responsible for the majority of attacks in the area, and they were well-organised and motivated.

Nigeria pledges new initiatives

Dakuku Peterside, director general and CEO of the Nigerian Maritime Authority and Safety Agency (NIMASA), acknowledged the maritime security risks.

But he said new initiatives were underway to improve the joint capacity of Nigerian law enforcement and navy capabilities, which could make seafarer kidnappings “history” within a matter of months.

Peterside added: "We have no option but to work together, but we cannot have imposed solutions".

A recently kidnapped seafarer, who did not want to be identified, said the attack appeared to be well-organised and led from ashore.

“The first indication I had of the attack was a knock on my cabin door and two men holding guns appeared,” he added.

He was subsequently held in a camp on shore along with other members of his crew until his release could be secured.

Jakob Larsen, head of security for Bimco, pointed out that regional states needed to play their part as well.

“Nigerian piracy mainly affects a small geographical area of around 150 by 150 nautical miles," he said.

"The problem can be solved easily and quickly, especially if Nigeria partners with international navies. Nigeria holds the key to solving this problem."