The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 is likely to have an impact on maritime operations in West Africa; despite the COVID-19 pandemic piracy kidnappings have not reduced.
In the Niger Delta, COVID-19 threatens to realign political priorities and decrease needed investments in an area where conflict between maritime criminals and state security forces fuel piracy and armed robbery.
Nigeria’s economy has already been hit hard by the pandemic, triggering emergency adjustments to its national budget. If these budget constraints curtail the government’s ability to sustain its demobilisation and reintegration programs for former combatants in the Delta, history suggests that piracy and armed robbery may rise.
These factors twinned with increased delays at port and the slowing down of infrastructure could lead to increased traffic presenting more potential targets for maritime criminals, but this trend is yet to manifest.
Regional and international cooperation is critical to ensure that the interstate threat of piracy is managed as the economic impact of COVID-19 unravels. However, the signs aren’t positive. A French naval mission deployed to the Gulf of Guinea to support regional counter-piracy and maritime security efforts in early March was recalled to France weeks later over COVID-19 concerns. The Italian navy quickly deployed a vessel to replace the French ship, but these voluntary commitments may not be feasible as the pandemic continues. West African governments in particular will have to balance their limited capabilities to simultaneously address a public health crisis and the ongoing threats to maritime security.