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Maritime Piracy and Terrorism in Nigeria. A Case Study of Nn Jubilee Ikot Abasi

Maritime Piracy and Terrorism in Nigeria. A Case Study of Nn Jubilee Ikot Abasi




Eighty per cent of the world’s cargo is carried by sea on more than 112 000 ships manned by more than 1,5 million seafarers, and as the maritime domain is an unregulated area, ships and crew on these ships are vulnerable to maritime violence.2 Thousands of ports and harbour facilities serviced by hundreds of thousands of port staff are also vulnerable to maritime criminals and terrorists. Attacks by terrorists, pirates and criminals operating in the maritime environment also have the potential to affect global trade. Motive determines whether an incident will be classified as an act of piracy or as an act of terrorism. These motives are financial or material gain in the case of piracy, and political gain in the case of terrorism. For this reason, pirates and terrorists seldom cooperate in launching maritime attacks. In comparing maritime terrorism and piracy, several other factors than motive will be investigated. Factors such as the choice of target, tactics and the use of violence will differ between maritime terrorism and piracy because of the motives behind the actions. Other factors will display similarities as both groups operate in the maritime domain using boats or ships in their operations, although the choice of vessels may differ and may be determined by the type of operation. In both cases, the socio-economic and political conditions in the host countries will contribute to the existence of maritime terrorism and piracy, and both groups will operate from a land base. As a result of the terrorist attacks on the US on 11 September 2001, maritime piracy and terrorism were increasingly linked and became highly controversial subjects. Countries fear that a captured ship could be used as a delivery platform for WMD or that a ship with dangerous cargo itself could be used as a weapon. Many questions however remain. It could be asked whether enough similarities exist to link piracy and maritime terrorism. This article will give an overview of the historical and current extent of maritime piracy, armed robbery of ships and maritime terrorism and will proceed to investigate similarities, differences and connections between pirates and terrorists operating in the maritime domain and the likelihood of cooperation between these groups. In order to distinguish between piracy, acts of armed robbery of ships and maritime terrorism it is necessary to define these concepts and identify the origins of these definitions.

The Concept of Maritime Terrorism, Piracy and Armed Robbery of Ships

Both the United Nations (UN)’s International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) currently use the definition of piracy as described in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). UNCLOS defines piracy as: (a) Any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed: Scientia Militaria on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft; (ii) against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State; (b) any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft; and (c) any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph (a) or (b). According to this definition, piracy is limited to acts outside the jurisdiction of the coastal waters of a state. Acts committed in coastal waters are considered armed robbery. This means that many cases of violence against ships occurring in the territorial waters of states are excluded from this definition. This also excludes acts of maritime terrorism, as political objectives are not included in this definition. Armed robbery of ships is defined by Resolution A 1025 (26) as:

  • Any unlawful act of violence or detention or any act of depredation, or threat thereof, other than an act of piracy, committed for private ends and directed against a ship or against persons or property on board such ship, within a State’s internal waters, archipelagic waters and territorial sea;
  • Any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described above. According to Ranstorp and Wilkinson, terrorism is defined as … the systematic use of coercive intimidation usually, though not exclusively, to service political ends. It is used to create and exploit a climate of fear among a wider group than the immediate victims of the violence, often to publicise a cause, as well as to coerce a target into acceding to terrorist aims. The maritime environment is only one of the areas of operations where terrorists use coercion to further their political aims. Maritime terrorism has no internationally agreed upon definition. Legal scholars have agreed on an operational definition for maritime terrorism based on Articles 3 and 4 of the 1988 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA), even though the SUA Convention does not refer to terrorism specifically. Maritime terrorism is defined as: Scientia Militaria
  • Any attempt or threat to seize control of a ship by force;
  • To damage or destroy a ship or its cargo;
  • To injure or kill a person on board a ship; or
  • To endanger in any way the safe navigation of a ship that moves from the territorial waters of one State into those of another State or into international waters.

 The Maritime Co-operation Working Group of the Council for Security and Co-operation in the Asia-Pacific (CSCAP) focuses its definition on terrorism:

  • Within the marine environment;
  • Used against vessels or fixed platforms at sea or in port, or against any one of their passengers or personnel; and
  • Against coastal facilities or settlements, including tourist resorts. For statistical purposes, the IMB does not distinguish between piracy, armed robbery of ships or maritime terrorism. As IMB statistics were used in this study, no distinction is made between piracy and armed robbery of ships when referring to statistics. Piracy was almost eliminated by the end of the 19th century, but increased again in the 1970s and 1980s. In many Third World countries, this period was known for liberation wars against former colonial governments. Many of these wars had a maritime dimension and as result, several maritime terrorist attacks were recorded.

Piracy, Armed Robbery of Ships and Maritime Terrorism in the Twentieth Century

During the twentieth century, incidents of piracy and acts of armed robbery of ships were the highest in Southeast Asia and Malacca, the Far East, India, Bangladesh, the west and east coasts of Africa, the Caribbean, and the US. By 1983, the problem of piracy and acts of armed robbery of ships became alarming.10 Since then, a steady increase in incidents occurred, with a total of 1 256 incidents of armed robbery of ships and piracy reported since the beginning of 1994 to the end of 1999. The end of the Cold War brought an end to worldwide patrols by the then superpowers, the US and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), which contributed to the rise in piracy after the 1990s. Incidents of maritime terrorism were higher in the last half on the twentieth century compared to incidents after Scientia Militaria 2000. A total of 121 incidents of maritime terrorism were reported from 1968 to the end of 1999.

Extent, Causes and Consequences of Piracy and Armed Robbery of Ships in the Twentieth Century

During the twentieth century, an increase in incidents of maritime piracy and acts of armed robbery of ships in specific regions could usually be explained by conflict in the region, an absence of crime-fighting institutions or strong navies to counter piracy and acts of armed robbery of ships, or a change in socio-economic conditions in the country or region affected.  Southeast Asia and the South China Sea During 1979, more than 200 000 refugees fled Indo-China through the South China Sea to reach Southeast Asian countries after the communist takeover of South Vietnam in 1975, and Vietnam’s subsequent attack on Kampuchea (Cambodia) in 1979, which created a refugee crisis. These refugees became known as the “boat people”. Over the next few years, more than 600 000 people fled Indo-China and an estimated 60 000 to 250 000 people died as a result of natural causes, bad weather and piracy. Many Thai fishermen turned to piracy, attacking refugees from South Vietnam and Kampuchea. An estimated three per cent of refugees suffered attacks. According to Refugee Reports for the period 1981 to 1988, a total of 884 piracy incidents and acts of armed robbery of ships occurred over this period, often including murder, abduction and rape. Not all attacks in the South China Sea were refugee-related. In 1993, incidents of piracy and acts of armed robbery of ships in the South China Seas rose to 42 incidents out of 67 incidents worldwide. As a direct result of the refugee crisis in Asia, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) took the lead in initiatives to reduce incidents of piracy in 1982, when internationally funded anti-piracy patrols were established in the Gulf of Thailand. An appeal was made to merchant vessels to rescue refugees in distress at sea. In 1984, only nine per cent of the boat people were rescued at sea, often being passed by ships. A regional information centre was also established in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to monitor piracy incidents in the area. About seven cases of piracy and acts of armed robbery of ships occurred in the Malacca Straits annually before 1989. In 1989, incidents were reported, which increased to 50 by 1991. In 1992, the IMO initiated a working group from the Scientia Militaria three littoral States of the Malacca Straits (Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore) as well as seven others, to investigate the problem in the Malacca Straits and to recommend preventative measures in dealing with piracy and armed robbery of ships specifically in the straits but also in other areas affected by the problem. As a result of the recommendations of the Working Group, a resolution (A.738(18)) was adopted in 1993 by the IMO. The new resolution recommended that masters of ships should immediately report attacks or threats of attack to the nearest rescue and coordination centre and request such co-ordination centres to warn shipping in the immediate vicinity of the attack immediately. Local security forces must also be notified in order for them to react to any such incidents. As a result of these initiatives only attacks were reported between 1993 and 1999. This success was however short lived as piracy in the straits rose to an alarming level in 2000.

Maritime Piracy in Africa

Since the 1970s, Nigeria experienced a huge increase in the volume of imports due to the oil boom. During the 1980s, West Africa had the highest number of reported incidents (approximately 25 reports annually) of piracy and armed robbery of ships in the world.19 By 1980, Lagos was the world’s worst affected harbour. Between 1982 and 1986, roll-on roll-off (RORO) vessels and container ships, waiting for weeks and months to enter inadequate harbours in order to offload goods (known as the “cement armada”) were attacked. Between 1984 and 1985, Nigerian authorities acted against piracy bases and outlets of the stolen goods by increasing patrols and surveillance, resulting in a dramatic reduction in acts of armed robbery of ships in 1986 in the ports of Lagos and Bonny. Attacks on ships rose dramatically again since 1999, due to attacks by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) on predominately workers in the oil industry. An attack in 1991 and three attacks that occurred in Sierra Leone between 1996 and 1999 could be linked to circumstances created during the civil war in Sierra Leone (1991 to 2002) that temporarily ousted President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. During the same period, attacks took place in the coastal waters or off the coast of most West African countries and ranged from theft in harbours and anchorages to attacks with speedboats using automatic weapons. By 1998, two thirds of all worldwide maritime abductions took place in the Gulf of Aden, and yacht hijackings occurred in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. Scientia Militaria Incidents in 1995 and 1996 were related to the dispute between Yemen and Eritrea over the Hanish Islands in the Southern Red Sea.24 The Americas and Caribbean After 1971, a sharp increase in yacht hijackings used in drug smuggling was experienced in the Southeastern Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico, along the Pacific Coast and Hawaii. None of the yacht owners were ever found and the yachts were destroyed after the drugs had been transported to the intended destination. This was as a direct result of the dismantling of professional drug rings by drug enforcement agencies in the late 1970s. The vacuum thus created was filled by amateur operators from South and Central America, and it is estimated that 44 yachts were hijacked in this manner between 1971 and 1974. Between 1981 and 1985, there were  reported acts of armed robbery of ships around Santos, Brazil. In the early 1990s, acts of armed robbery of ships and piracy occurred in the West Indies, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Colombia and Brazil, with the Rio de Janeiro and Santos ports being the most dangerous in this area. Between 1970 and 1989, the US was affected by acts of piracy and armed robbery of ships in several ways. Cruise ship extortion took place in the 1970s and 1980s during which ransom was extorted by threatening explosions on board ships or hijackings of ships. Mutinies over labour disputes as well as government marine scams also took place over this time. An example of this type of scam was the attempted hijacking in 1978 of the USS Trepang, a nuclear-powered submarine armed with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles. One of the hijackers involved was a former crew member of the submarine. The plan was to blow up the submarine’s tender or service boat, take over the submarine, kill the crew, sail to New London, Connecticut, fire a nuclear missile at an American East Coast city and make certain demands. The submarine was also to be sold to an unidentified buyer. An undercover Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent uncovered the plot. It was not clear whether the aim was in fact to steal the submarine or to steal the front money.

Extent, Causes and Consequences of Maritime Terrorism in the Twentieth Century

Incidents of maritime terrorism were high in the second half of the 20th century. Between 1979 and 1989, 47 terrorist attacks on ships were reported. During these incidents, eight vessels were hijacked and 11 ships were destroyed. Scientia Militaria Passenger liners were specifically targeted during maritime terrorism attacks due to the publicity value of such attacks. Although the hijacking of the Santa Maria in 1961 was the first such case in the 20th century, the Achille Lauro incident in 1985 created far-reaching publicity and influenced international relations. The Santa Maria Hijacking The Santa Maria hijacking in 1961 is regarded as the first incident of modern maritime terrorism. The hijacking internationalised conditions in Portugal’s colonies in Africa and as a result, Angola was placed on the UN Security Council’s agenda in 1961. The hijacking also sparked the 1961 uprising in Angola. The Santa Maria was hijacked by Colonel Galvao and Portuguese insurgents. Galvao claimed to represent the Portuguese National Independence Movement, which aimed to overthrow the government of President Salazar in Angola. The terrorists came on board as passengers, killing an officer in the process and wounding another crew member. British, US, Danish and Portuguese warships were involved in the search for the ship on the high seas. US and Portuguese naval forces attempted to intercept the ship and cut off its escape to Angola. As the motives were political in nature, the incident could not be regarded as an act of piracy and US forces were unable to board the ship on legal grounds. Negotiations followed and the passengers as well as Galvao and the insurgents disembarked in Brazil – the latter after having been granted asylum. Problems cropped up during the handling of the case in international law as the incident could not be defined as an act of piracy because of the political nature of the incident, the two-ship requirement for an incident to be labelled an act of piracy as well as the fact that the terrorists came aboard while the ship was moored and did not board in international waters. Palestinian Terrorist Organisations and the Achille Lauro Hijacking Palestinians were involved in maritime terrorism in the role of attackers (six cases between 1971 and 1985) as well as victims, usually involving Israeli or rival forces.33 One of these incidents was the hijacking of the Achille Lauro. On 7 October 1985, the cruise liner Achille Lauro, with more than 750 passengers and 331 crew members on board, made a stop at Alexandra, where 651 of the passengers disembarked, planning to meet the ship again in Port Said. Soon after leaving Alexandria, four members of the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF) hijacked the ship. The hijackers demanded that the ship sail to Syria, but Syrian authorities did not Scientia Militaria grant the ship permission to enter port. The terrorists killed Leon Klinghoffer, a wheelchair-bound elderly Jewish-American passenger and threw his body overboard. Yasser Arafat, the head of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), declared that his organisation was not involved in the incident and offered to help broker the release of the hostages. One of the men sent to Egypt as part of the negotiating team, Abul Abbas, however, turned out to be the master brain behind the hijacking. The ship sailed on to Port Said where the Egyptian government granted the members of the PLF safe passage out of Egypt in return for the hostages and the ship. US Navy F-14 fighter planes forced the EgyptAir Boeing 737 aircraft transporting the hijackers to Tunis, Tunisia to land at the US–Italian base in Sicily where the hijackers were arrested by the Italian authorities. Abbas was, however, allowed to leave the country despite a US request to arrest him, which strained US– Italian relations. This led to the temporary collapse of the Italian government on 17 October 1985 when the Craxi government split over the handling of Abbas and the hijacking. Relations between the US and Egypt were also strained due to the hijacking of the EgyptAir plane which Egyptians saw as an insult to their national honour and an act of air piracy. US forces in Baghdad eventually arrested Abbas in 2003. The hijacking of the Achille Lauro had far-reaching implications for the international cruise line industry, international law and the domestic law of countries such as the US. In November 1985, the IMO’s 14th Assembly adopted a resolution: measures to prevent unlawful acts, which threaten the safety of ships and the security of their passengers and crew. In November 1986, a convention for the suppression of unlawful acts against the safety of maritime navigation was proposed, the SUA Convention. Unlawful acts stipulated by the SUA Convention are the seizure of ships by force, violence against persons on board ships, and placement of devices on board a ship with the intent to destroy or damage it. Maritime Terrorism in Africa Two organisations were involved in maritime terrorism incidents in Africa, namely the Polisario Front in Morocco and Mauritania, and the Somali National Movement in Somalia. Between 1978 and 1987, about 17 attacks on mostly fishing boats off the coast of Morocco and Mauritania were attributed to the Polisario Front. The Polisario Front was fighting for the independence of the Saharan (Sahrawi) Arab Democratic Republic or Spanish Sahara. Attacks were launched from ZodiacScientia Militaria type motorised boats with machine guns or light armour-piercing missiles. In some cases, crews of the stricken vessels were held for ransom. In 1989, the Somali National Movement seized ships trading with the Siad Barre dictatorship in Somalia in the name of the Somali National Movement Coast Guard in a bid to overthrow the unrepresentative Barre government and to gain independence for Somaliland from the rest of Somalia. This also created a cycle of violence between clans. The collapse of the Siad Barre government in January 1991 also seemed to act as trigger for the country’s current piracy problem. The Provisional Irish Republican Army The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) carried out several terrorist attacks against maritime targets in the 1970s. The first incident of this nature occurred in February 1972 when a bomb was found on the passenger ferry, Duke of Argyle. Another incident, the assassination of Lord Mountbatten and his family on board the family pleasure boat, Shadow V, in Mullaghmore harbour, County Donegal, was the only incident that received lasting publicity. The IRA also used ships to smuggle weapons. On 28 March 1973, the Cypriot coaster, Claudia, with Joe Cahill, a former commander of the Provisional IRA, on board, was intercepted when an attempt was made to offload weapons on the Irish coast. Five tons of weapons supplied by Colonel Gadaffi were confiscated.44 Maritime Terrorism in the Caribbean and Americas In the Americas, maritime terrorism occurred as a result of the US–Cuban conflict, as well as efforts to damage the Nicaraguan economy. Between 1960 and 1977, anti-Castro Cuban exile groups were responsible for more than 25 maritime terrorist attacks. After the Bay of Pigs incident in 1961, terrorist groups such as Alpha 66, the Second Front and Commandos L, were unable to operate on Cuban territory and therefore turned to maritime terrorism, which was financially supported by the US and Cuban exile community. These groups were armed and trained in navigation and underwater demolitions by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and until 1968, they were responsible for attacks against Cuban ports and Soviet ships in the Caribbean. Groups such as Commandos L were also equipped with fast boats armed with 57mm recoilless rifles and machine guns. In 1960, a French freighter offloading explosives in Havana was blown up. This attack was attributed to sabotage by anti-Castro groups. During such an attack in April 1963, Commando L launched a hit-and-run attack on a Russian freighter in the Cuban port of Isabella de Sagua, severely damaging the ship. Scientia Militaria Attacks were also carried out on Cuban ships and ships trading with Cuba in US harbours and territorial waters. In 1968, the US Coast Guard foiled an attempted attack on a Cuban merchant ship. In the same year, British, Japanese and Polish ships allegedly trading with Cuba were damaged by explosive devices in US harbours. One of these was the British freighter Caribbean Venture, which was damaged by an underwater explosion while at anchor in Biscayne Bay, Miami, Florida. The Cuban exile group El Poder Cubano claimed responsibility. Between 1983 and 1985, anti-Sandinista forces in countries bordering Nicaragua aiming to damage the Nicaraguan economy were responsible for maritime terrorist attacks. During most of the incidents, ships detonated mines outside Nicaraguan ports. The Nicaraguan government blamed the CIA for involvement in the mining campaign, and took the issue to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.48 Prior to 2000, incidents of maritime terrorism were higher, especially in the second half of the 20th century, compared to maritime terrorist incidents between 2000 and 2011. The attacks on the USS Cole in 2000, the Limburg in 2002 and the 9/11 attack in the US in 2001 created fear of a potential catastrophic terrorist attack in the maritime domain. As a result of these attacks and an all-time high in incidents of maritime piracy and armed robbery of ships in 2000, maritime piracy and terrorism were increasingly linked and became highly controversial subjects.

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