First, the good news: Piracy off Somalia is down. In 2012, there were 297 piracy attacks and 28 hijackings worldwide, according to the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Center, with 75 incidents attributed to Somali pirates, who captured 250 hostages.

Royal Dutch Navy Commodore Ben Bekkering, the former commander of the NATO counter piracy task force, said, “The numbers of successful pirate attacks are going down, but I am also pretty sure that as soon as we turn away and go somewhere else, they will be back in big numbers.”

In the past few years, NATO and the U.S. have led multinational anti-piracy security campaigns off East Africa, whose ad hoc flotillas have included member vessels from nations as diverse as Iran and China. Seeking a more robust response, some shipping companies have armed vessels with private guards and barbed wire, while an international campaign to make it easier to prosecute pirates also has contributed to the piracy decline.

Although the number of pirate attacks off the Somali coast has markedly declined, the conditions that make piracy a lucrative pursuit in African waters, which include poverty, political instability and lawlessness, remain.

And like toothpaste squeezed out of a tube, Bekkering’s predictions seem to be coming true, only this time, off West Africa.

According to port authority officials in Abidjan, the French tanker Gascogne has been hijacked off Côte d'Ivoire. Alexis Guie, in charge of Abidjan’s port communications said, "The boat was hijacked in international waters."

According to the French government, the Gascogne, owned by the French group Sea-Tankers, a shipping firm based in Merignac, France, was sailing under a Luxembourgian flag and had a crew of 19 Togolese sailors.

What is most interesting about Guie’s comments was the remark about “international waters.”

According to the Third United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which came into force in November 1994, a nation with a maritime frontier can claim an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles from its coastline.

"When a boat is hijacked more than 300 kilometers from the Ivorian coast, that can't be in our waters," Guie said, adding that Ivorian authorities had "no information" about the incident.


John Daly

Dr. John C.K. Daly is the chief analyst for Oilprice.com.