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Next pirate hot spot: the Gulf of Guinea

The Gulf of Guinea, off the coast of West Africa, is a significant source of US oil. Rising piracy here could mean rising prices at the pump.

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India’s permanent representative to the UN, Amb. Hardeep Singh Puri, told the UN Security Council that India too would do its part. “India stands ready to contribute to international efforts aimed at increasing effective cooperation among States in the region to tackle the threat of piracy and armed robbery at sea,” he said.

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The costs of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea region – both from stolen cargos and higher insurance premiums and security costs-- are estimated to reach $2 billion each year, compared with $7 billion from Somali piracy.  

For consuming nations such as the US – which currently relies on the Gulf of Guinea for 15 percent of its oil imports, but its reliance could increase to 25 percent over the next five years – is higher fuel prices. For producing nations, piracy eats into revenues and scares off potential investors. Benin, which derives 80 percent of its government budget revenues from oil production, has seen the number of ships using its port city of Cotonou drop 70 percent since pirate attacks started a few years back.

Through its new Africa Command, the US military has begun joint training exercises with West African navies to “enhance regional and maritime security and safety by assisting African nations in developing proficiencies in areas such as maritime interdiction operations, search and rescue operations, counterterrorism, and overfishing of African waters.”

This joint training occurs aboard US Navy ships, allowing the US to maintain a military presence in Africa, called an “Africa Partnership Station,” without actually maintaining a physical naval base on the continent. To allay fears that the US military was building a beachhead in Africa, similar to its past leases of foreign bases, such as Okinawa, Japan, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Subic Bay, Philippines, Africom has been careful to describe its partnership station as “more of a concept than a platform, and does not include a specific ship, unit, or aircraft.”

“Since APS is typically based aboard a ship, it does not leave a permanent footprint in Africa,” says an Africom briefing paper. “The ship functions as a mobile university, moving from port to port fostering long-term relationships between the United States and international partners.”

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