Nigeria and Sao Tome agree oil-zone maritime security

Dec 21, 2009 01:00 AM

Nigeria and the island nation of Sao Tome and Principe have agreed to set up a joint maritime military commission to protect offshore crude oil fields and try to check piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, officials said.
The two countries share a joint offshore oil development zone in an area where the numbers of armed gangs, pirates and organised criminals have risen in recent years.

"Recent security developments in the Gulf of Guinea especially on the illegal trafficking of arms and ammunition have become serious concerns," the two countries said in a joint statement following a meeting in Nigeria's capital Abuja.
"If the situation is allowed to deteriorate without instituting a mechanism to check the atrocities, it could threaten our national security."

Although acts of piracy are more frequent off Somalia in east Africa, analysts say ships passing through the Gulf of Guinea are at greater peril because West African pirates have shown they are ready to use deadly force to snatch oil cargoes.
Seaborne gangs seize oil tankers and sail them to one of many ports along the coast which, analysts say, lack sufficient security or where officials can be bribed. The stolen oil can then be sold into the local market.

The insecurity is a deterrent for investors. Sao Tome has been looking for partners to extract crude oil reserves off its coast and expects to launch its first oil block tender at the end of January or early February next year.
But exploration in its joint development zone with Nigeria has so far been disappointing. Chevron has said an early oil strike did not prove commercially viable but it is continuing to drill. China's Sinopec and Addax Petroleum are also exploring there.

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