Nigeria Convicts First Pirates Under New Maritime Law

LAGOS (Reuters) – A Nigerian court has handed down the first convictions under a new anti-piracy law, giving hope to global shipping fleets that legal reforms will help stem growing attacks in the Gulf of Guinea.

FILE PHOTO: A ship loaded with refined fuel is anchored after being seized from suspected pirates on a defense jetty in Lagos August 20, 2013. Commodore Chris Ezekobe, Commander of the Navy at NNS Beecroft, a naval base in Lagos , said four men hijacked the barge and its crew on August 14 on the eastern edge of the Nigerian coast near the port city of Calabar. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye/

The three men fined on Tuesday by a court in Port Harcourt, Nigeria’s oil hub, were among nine charged with hijacking the tanker MV Elobey VI off Equatorial Guinea in March and obtaining a $200,000 ransom for the crew.

The shipping industry has long lobbied Nigeria for action in the region, dubbed “Pirate Alley”.

It accounts for more than 90% of maritime kidnappings worldwide, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), with attacks on everything from oil rigs to fishing vessels.

The court fined the three convicted men 10 million naira ($26,300) each for each of the two counts of piracy to which they pleaded guilty.

The other six have pleaded not guilty and their trial is continuing.

Nigerian Navy spokesman Commodore Suleiman Dahun said the convictions were the first sentencing under the law, passed last year to make it easier to prosecute pirates.

He said the fines were imposed in lieu of jail time.

While the Gulf of Guinea stretches across more than a dozen West African countries, experts say pirates usually come from Nigeria’s oil-rich but poverty-stricken delta region.

Previously, attackers rarely faced legal consequences because hacking was not illegal under Nigerian law.

A total of 49 crew members were kidnapped in the Gulf in the first half of this year, compared to 27 last year, according to IMB figures. He added that the attackers were also going further out to sea.

“We need to change the risk/reward ratio…” IMB director Michael Howlett said last month. “Without an appropriate and proportionate deterrent, hackers and thieves will become more ruthless and ambitious.”

Reporting by Camillus Eboh in Abuja and Libby George in Lagos. Written by Libby George; edited by John Stonestreet