from Africa in Transition, Africa Program, and Nigeria on the Brink

Ransom Payment in the Gulf of Guinea

A machine gun is seen on a sandbag on a boat off the Atlantic coast in Nigeria's Bayelsa State on December 19, 2013.
A machine gun is seen on a sandbag on a boat off the Atlantic coast in Nigeria's Bayelsa State on December 19, 2013. Stringer/Reuters

According to the Nigerian army, a ransom of $300,000 was paid to pirates in the Gulf of Guinea to secure the release of the crew of a Chinese fishing boat. The party that paid the ransom is not reported. The most likely possibility is that it was the Chinese company that operated the fishing boat.

The episode sheds some light of the murky operation of kidnapping and ransom payment in the Gulf of Guinea. The Chinese fishing boat was registered in Gabon. The crew consisted of six Chinese, three Indonesians, one Gabonese, and four Nigerians. The crew was held captive for about a month. A maritime security expert was cited as saying that the pirates used the hijacked vessel as a "mothership" for attacks on oil tankers. 

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The Gulf of Guinea is now the center of piracy in the world: in 2019, it accounted for over 90 percent of maritime kidnappings globally. Most of the pirates are Nigerian, from the Niger Delta, the region where most of Nigeria's oil comes from. The Delta has been rocked by the fall in international oil prices and the degradation of the environment by oil spills, which have damaged local agriculture and fishing while adversely impacting human health.

The Nigerian government's official policy is against the payment of ransom, so the amounts are usually not made public. In this particular case, the ransom could have been paid outside of Nigeria, perhaps in Gabon.

The episode illustrates how lucrative kidnapping can be, in the Gulf Guinea as well as elsewhere. The $300,000 sum is large, especially for communities that ring the Gulf of Guinea.

More on:

Nigeria

Transnational Crime

Fossil Fuels

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Sub-Saharan Africa