Sunday, December 20, 2009

Shipping Off Nigeria May Face Renewed Attacks By Militants

MEND Faction Look to Resume Hostilities
Shipping News Feature

NIGERIA – Shipping that uses the routes close to the coast of West Africa could come under the renewed threat of pirate attack after the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) launched an attack on an oil pipeline in the region and issued a release stating that they intended to resume hostilities if dialogue on their demands was not undertaken within a month.

The faction described the attack on the pipeline in Abonemma, about 50km (30 miles) west of Port Harcourt, as a “warning strike” and added that the assault was undertaken by 35 men on five boats with assault rifles, rocket launchers and heavy-calibre machine guns.

The insurgent organisation had formally laid down its arms in October after an agreement was reached with the Nigerian federal government over the use of oil cash generated in the delta, to develop the local economy and community.

The new attack could very well mean that the movement’s attacks on freight ships and tankers could also resume, a significant threat as before the ceasefire MEND had been one of the most prolific sources of pirate incidents in the world, attacking at least 37 ships in the first half of 2009 alone.

In their statement to the world’s media MEND said that: “The government has been offering bribes to a number of militants who surrendered their birth rights under its amnesty programme in the form of contracts. The government perceives these individuals to wield some kind of influence in the region. The group wants to make it abundantly clear that all those who have capitulated are of no significance to the continuation of the struggle.

“MEND is committed to continue its fight for the restoration of the land and rights of the people of the Niger Delta which has been stolen for 50 years.

“MEND remains open to dialogue; however, the indefinite ceasefire ordered by the group on Sunday, October 25, 2009 will be reviewed within 30 days from today, December 19, 2009.”

It had been hoped by shipping pundits that the MEND ceasefire would mean safer seas around Africa, already blighted by the problem of Somali pirates holding ships to ransom off the continent’s eastern coast.

If this new situation is not contained and MEND, or the particular faction responsible, decide to resume their attacks at sea, then shippers could find the risks to both their vessels and crews significantly increased.