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European shipping companies call for EU fleet in West Africa

The situation off West Africa is now so unsustainable and the piracy effort so fragmented that the European shipping companies are calling for the EU to head a coordinated effort. "We need naval forces now," they say.

Pirate attacks off West Africa have become so frequent and violent that European shipping companies are now calling out in alarm to the European Commission. At a meeting yesterday, a group consisting of 30 European shipping companies called for the Commission and the European External Action Service to act with a coordinated effort. A joint naval fleet effort is needed, as was the case off the coast of Somalia, where pirate attacks this year reached a new low following a succesful joint effort from shipping companies, the EU, and NATO.

Vice president of the Danish Shipowners' Association, Jan Fritz Hansen, who also chairs the Piracy Committee of the European shipowners' association ECSA participated in the meeting, and tells ShippingWatch the following:

Completely unacceptable
"There was a consensus that the situation in West Africa is completely unacceptable. A joint effort is needed, as was the case with Somalia. This could either be a joint naval effort to protect the ships, strengthening the local effort, or supplying development aid to the region. We also need to reach an agreement concerning the use of guards. There's currently no such agreement, which means the shipping companies have to rely on local guards or companies," says Jan Fritz Hansen to ShippingWatch after the meeting.

The problem off the coast of West Africa is different and more difficult to grasp, as the West Africa situation - as opposed to Somalia and the Gulf of Aden - doesn't concern ships passing through en route to their final destination, but rather, the problem concerns ships sailing toward various national ports, each with their own distinct legislation, police authority, and naval force.

Pulling out of Africa
The lack of safety in the region together with the rising costs for the shipping companies has led several European shipping companies to consider abandoning the African destinations, for example some of the French carriers that traditionally operate in several of the African countries, according to Jan Fritz Hansen. 

"EU understands our point-of-view, and that there's a need for a coordinated effort," says Jan Fritz Hansen. There's currently just a few European countries present in the region, with a single naval vessel or a fishing control ship.

The shipowners' association bases its request for increased cooperation partially on new numbers from the report "The Human Cost of Maritime Piracy 2012," which was published last week. The report points out that piracy in West Africa in 2012 hit 966 mariners, while the similar number for East Africa was smaller, at 851 people.

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