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Nigeria seen as new center of piracy

Jan. 4, 2013 at 2:34 PM

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria, Jan. 4 (UPI) -- Nigeria has emerged as a new center for piracy, with the number of attacks steadily increasing despite the government's naval assets, authorities say.

In December 2012 alone, gunmen attacked three commercial vessels within six days, ransacking the ships and taking a total of nine crew members hostage, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

In 2012, there were 27 attacks off Nigeria's coast, said the International maritime Bureau. In 2011, there were 10 incidents of piracy and in 2010, 19.

Comparison can be made to Somalia, on the other side of the continent. But piracy dropped by two-thirds in Somalia last year, and Nigeria has, for Africa, impressive naval resources: warships, a frigate, a number of surveillance drones and 200 naval troops trained by the U.S. navy, as well as a 378-foot Coast Guard cutter.

However, the country has been stymied in the use of those resources. The naval troops are pulling duty land-side, helping to fight terrorists in the desert north. Much of the rest of the equipment has been idled in various states of disrepair or a lack of funding sucked away by corruption.

Shipping lines that hire Nigerian sailors complain they are not adequately trained. And there is the immensity of the task -- Nigeria sits along the 2,100-mile-long coast of the Gulf of Guinea, and pirates have attacked as far as four countries and 400 miles away.

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