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Pirates take new territory: West African Gulf of Guinea

Pirates are making headway off the West African coast – the Gulf of Guinea is second only to Somalia in terms of pirate attacks.

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It was Nov. 24, and the German-owned oil tanker MT Cancale Star was plying the blue ocean water 18 miles from shore when the crew spotted a speedboat full of pirates, approaching fast.

If this sounds like just another day in Somalia, think again. The MT Cancale Star was off the coast of the West African country of Benin, and the pirates were Nigerian.

The Gulf of Guinea is second only to Somalia in terms of such attacks, with some 32 pirate strikes reported in the first nine months of 2009.

Already home to an insurgency in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta – where attacks on oil facilities routinely cause world prices to spike – piracy is now turning the Gulf of Guinea into a region of increasing international concern. A growing number of US, British, and French ships patrol here and carry out joint exercises with the navies of Nigeria, Ghana, and Cameroon. But the scale of the problem has become so vast, and the capabilities of local navies so small, that even local officials admit that the pirates have the upper hand.

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