Piracy attacks off West Africa nearly doubled in 2016

Dakar - Pirate attacks off West Africa almost doubled in 2016, with the majority of incidents occurring off Nigeria's coast, a new report said on Tuesday.

Incidents of piracy and armed robbery at sea off West Africa increased from 54 in 2015 to 95 in 2016, according to the Oceans Beyond Piracy maritime project.

Pirates in the region are increasingly using kidnapping for ransom, the report said.

"The model offers financial gain with less risk to the perpetrators than hijacking for cargo theft," said Maisie Pigeon, a lead author of the report. "Unfortunately, these kinds of attacks appear to have continued into 2017."

There were 18 incidents of kidnap for random off Nigeria last year, while there was only one incident of cargo theft hijacking in 2016 off all of West Africa.

More than two-thirds of all reported incidents in the region last year took place off Nigeria, "strongly influenced by the domestic security situation," the report said.

Elsewhere, a small number of incidents this year off Somalia may indicate the return of piracy on one of the world's most crucial trade routes, the report said.

It blamed "decreased vigilance" by the international community, whose patrols off the Horn of Africa nation in recent years had quieted the threat.

"In an attempt to lower costs, ship operators are increasingly shifting towards privately contracted armed security teams comprising three rather than four members," the report said.

The seizure by Somali pirates of a Comoros-flagged oil tanker in March came after five years without a major hijacking in the region.