The International Maritime Bureau has raised alarms about the Ivory Coast attacks, calling the first January incident a "potential game changer" in piracy in the region because was the farthest ever from Nigeria in the Gulf of Guinea. And U.S. Navy Capt. Dave Rollo, who directed the recent naval exercise in the Gulf of Guinea that involved as many as 15 nations, said piracy in that area is not just a regional crime issue, it's "a global problem."
Meanwhile, over the past year, piracy off Somalia's coast has plummeted, as the U.S.-led enforcement effort beefed up patrols and encouraged increased security measures on ships transiting the region. After repeated urgings from military commanders and other officials, shipping companies increased the use of armed guards and took steps to better avoid and deter pirates.
According to data from the combined maritime force, nearly 50 ships were taken by pirates in 2010 in the Gulf of Aden and Somali Basin and there were another close to 200 unsuccessful attempts. Last year, just seven ships were pirated there along with 36 failed attacks.
Even as defense officials warn about the growing threat, they acknowledge that increasing counter-piracy operations around the Gulf of Guinea presents a number of challenges.
In recent weeks, the U.S. Navy has had to postpone or cancel a number of ship deployments because of budget cuts, including a decision not to send the aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman to the Persian Gulf. The U.S. has maintained two carrier groups in the Gulf for much of the past two years, as tensions with Iran have escalated.
U.S. Africa Command has no ships of its own, so any U.S. vessels needed for operations would have to come from other places, such as Europe or America.
And defense officials also note that it may be difficult to build as much international interest in the Gulf of Guinea attacks as those in the more heavily traveled shipping lanes on the northeastern side of the continent.
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