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Growing piracy risk in West African waters brings new exposures, challenges


LONDON — While the threat of piracy from the Gulf of Aden has diminished in recent months, the growing piracy risk in West African waters the past two years brings new and challenging exposures for shipowners and the marine insurance market.

Executives at the International Union of Marine Insurance's annual conference in London said last week said that while the location has shifted, piracy remains a major risk.

“Now the threat has shifted to West Africa, there are new concerns and exposures to analyze,” said Dennis Marvin, chairman of IUMI's cargo committee and a vice president at American International Group Inc.

“As an intelligence puzzle, West African piracy is a hard one to crack, especially when compared to its Somali equivalent,” said Jim Mainstone, head of intelligence at Oxford, England-based Gray Page Ltd.

“If you want to properly understand the threat, forget about Somalia and analyze West Africa from first principles,” Mr. Page said. Piracy in West African waters is akin to organized crime, and the pirates that board a vessel “are the tip of the iceberg.”

Unlike most pirates in the Gulf of Aden, West African pirates typically are backed by a sophisticated network of organized crime, Mr. Page said. They often have access to detailed information about cargo being shipped and access to illegal storage facilities and the contacts via whom they can sell goods on the black market.

“It's a near-perfect crime,” he said. “It is quick, it raises a lot of money very quickly, no one really gets hurt and no one is going to do, or is doing, very much about it.”

The “big winners” are the criminal gangs, he said, “and there is only one loser, which is the cargo interests.”