The Horn of Africa: A Place of Opportunity & Danger
Many countries throughout North America and Europe remain stuck in a widespread economic downturn, with unemployment rates that stubbornly persist at all-time highs. As the situation grows increasingly dire, more and more workers may consider the possibility of going abroad to find work. One popular destination for oil, shipping, and offshore production work is the coastal areas of Africa, particularly the East and West coasts.
These regions are rich in oil and marine life, providing opportunities in rig work, shipping, fishing, and more. Unfortunately, along with these opportunities there are also great risks to personal safety. Piracy and even potential kidnappings may await those brave enough to explore employment opportunities on the African coastline.
Modern-Day Piracy Off the Coast of Africa
Why have the coastal waters off of Africa, particularly by the countries of Somalia, Yemen, and Nigeria, become a hotbed of modern day pirate attacks? There isn’t a simple answer. In order to understand this problem, we must instead look at the series of contributing factors that have created an unstable region ripe for criminal activity.
Many of the African nations whose waters are high risk areas for piracy are facing extreme political turmoil. This means that not only do these countries fail to offer strict legal deterrents, but often their citizens are so poor that piracy is one of their only options. In Somalia, for example, the average citizen's annual income is just $650, while a single act of piracy could result in a $10,000 gain for a pirate. Add to this situation the fact that shipping companies have a tendency to send old vessels—which can be easily overcome by small arms—to this region, and the explosion in acts of piracy since 2005 makes sense.
Repercussions of Piracy on the Oil Industry
In Nigeria, political unrest and warring factions have led to riots and demonstrations on land as well as kidnappings from ships and offshore oil rigs. The problem has grown so serious that Shell has evacuated all dependents from their residential compounds. Other companies have since followed suit and imposed strict travel restrictions in order to protect their employees and their holdings. Attacks on foreigners have led to a 25% cut in Nigeria's oil production, and some reports suggest that Shell and other companies have considered moving their headquarters elsewhere.
What Does the Future Look Like?
The situation does not appear to be improving. Although worldwide incidents of piracy dropped in 2011, piracy incidents on Africa's east and west coasts rose from 219 in 2010 to 237 in 2011. In addition, 16 crewmembers were killed over the past two years during the course of these attacks. While the numbers have dropped significantly for East Africa piracy incidents, it appears the piracy has merely shifted to West Africa. Ships were attacked 51 times in 2013 in the Gulf of Guinea.
However, even as security concerns in the region rise, employment opportunities—particularly in the field of oil and gas retrieval—are booming. As a whole, the continent of Africa saw an almost 50% increase in offshore rig activity in 2011 alone. With so much opportunity for employment, workers may decide that the potential benefits outweigh the risks.
Kurt Arnold, an offshore injury lawyer with Arnold & Itkin, says, "Workers should be cautious and know their rights. If you are injured in any way while working offshore, even in a foreign country, there are maritime laws that protect your rights."