West Africa seeks anti-piracy force

French warship in Suze canal, 2008 International patrols have deterred some Somali pirates

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West African leaders have called for the deployment of an international naval force to curb the growing threat of piracy off the Gulf of Guinea.

Piracy in the region needed to be tackled with "firmness", Ivory Coast's President Alassane Ouattara said, at a meeting of regional leaders.

There are now more pirate attacks off West Africa than off Somalia, maritime groups said last week.

Patrols by foreign warships have reduced attacks by Somali pirates.

'Economies threatened'

About 960 sailors were attacked in West Africa in 2012, compared to 851 off the Somali coast, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) and other seafarers' groups said last week.

This was the first time that more pirate attacks had been reported off the Gulf of Guinea.

The highest risk area for pirate activity in West Africa is off the coast of Nigeria, Africa's biggest oil producer, correspondents say.

Speaking at a meeting of West and Central African leaders in Cameroon's capital Yaounde, Mr Ouattara said: "I urge the international community to show the same firmness in the Gulf of Guinea as displayed in the Gulf of Aden, where the presence of international naval forces has helped to drastically reduce acts of piracy."

Map of Nigeria

Cameroon's President Paul Biya said it was vital to respond to the threat, to protect shipping routes and the economic interests of the region.

West African pirates mostly steal fuel cargo and the crews' possessions, often resorting to extreme violence, correspondents say.

Five of the 206 hostages seized last year off West Africa had been killed, said the report by the IMB and other seafarers' groups.

In contrast, Somali pirates usually seize a ship and its crew and hold them until a ransom is paid.

There had been a 78% drop in piracy off Somalia last year compared with 2011, the report said.

This was due to better practices by ship's captains and crews and the increasing use of armed guards aboard vessels in the region.

But it added that at least 78 hostages are still being held captive by Somali pirates.

Some of them have been held for more than two years.

Naval forces from around the world - including the European Union, China and the US - have been patrolling Somalia's coast.

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