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Calls for armed guards after Dubai ship targeted.

Governments and navies need to work more closely together to protect merchant ships in the pirate-ridden Gulf of Guinea, security experts say.

The comments come following a spate of piracy attacks off the West African coast, including the hijacking of a Dubai-owned oil-tanker, the MT Maximus on February 11.

Nigerian Naval forces clashed with gunmen after boarding the vessel off the Ivorian coast. During a shoot-out several of the pirates fled on the mother ship with two hostages from India and Pakistan.

In the case of MT Maximus, information sharing by local maritime security operatives could have been instrumental in preventing the hijacking, said Meredyth Grant, founder of Charlie Charlie One, a UK based maritime and defence consultant.

She said: "For some days before the attack occurred there were vague warnings in open source media that a suspicious vessel (a pirate mother vessel) was active in the waters off Togo and Ghana, moving west.

"Local maritime security operatives must have had more knowledge, but did not appear to attempt to detain the vessel before an attack took place."

But Grant said that forces did work well together to respond to the incident.

She said: "The Nigerian navy deserve much credit to reacting quite bravely to this incident once MT Maximus neared their waters.

"The ship was actually outside of the Nigerian EEZ and in the waters of the island nation of Sao Tome when the Nigerian navy boarded it. This was possible due to an agreement with Sao Tome that Nigerian naval ships could operate in those waters."

This successfully coordinated effort by navies could signal a new era of greater cooperation by West African navies in a region rife with piracy, said David Rider, a maritime security analyst at Neptune Consultancy.

"We've seen a huge spike in pirate and militant activity in and around the Niger Delta since President Buhari ended amnesty payments to former militants and the problem has spread."

With about 70 per cent of incidents in the Gulf of Guinea never reported, there's much to be done in terms of information sharing, Rider added.

Nigerian naval forces launched a search operation for the captured seaman, but the mother ship has still not been tracked.

Owners of the merchant vessel Maximus Dubai-based Warm Seas company could not provide updates on the crew's fate.

In the Gulf of Guinea, the locus of one fifth of the world's maritime crime, authorities should lay down better provisions to protect merchant ships, said Rider. He also said simply co-operation is not enough to prevent attacks and that armed guards are needed, which is problematic given differing laws between counties.

He said: "Private maritime security companies are unable to operate with armed guards, which immediately puts ship security on the back foot.

"If the current trend continues, we hope that governments in the region will realise that shipping needs a deterrent as well as a response to piracy."

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Publication:7 Days (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Date:Mar 6, 2016
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