A Nigerian court in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, has scored its first set of convictions under a new anti-piracy law.

This has given hope to the world’s shipping fleets, as legal reforms will help stem rising attacks in the Gulf of Guinea, Reuters reports.

The three men fined by the court in Port Harcourt, Nigeria’s oil hub, on Tuesday, August 11, 2020, were among nine accused of hijacking the tanker MV Elobey VI off Equatorial Guinea in March and securing a $200,000 ransom for the crew.

The merchant shipping industry has long pressed Nigeria to take action in the area, which has been dubbed “pirate alley.”

The area accounts for over 90% of maritime kidnappings globally, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB). Here, there are attacks on everything--from oil platforms to fishing vessels.

Pirates operating in Nigerian waters (AFP)
Pirates operating in Nigerian waters (AFP)

The three men were fined N10 million ($26,300) each for each of the two counts of piracy, after they pleaded guilty.

The remaining six pleaded not guilty and their trial continues.

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

He said the fines were levied in lieu of prison sentences.

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

Previously, attackers rarely faced judicial consequences as piracy was not illegal under Nigerian law.

A Nigerian vessel in the Gulf of Guinea (AFP)
A Nigerian vessel in the Gulf of Guinea (AFP)
AFP

A total of 49 crew were kidnapped in the Gulf in the first half of 2020, when juxtaposed with 27 last year, according to IMB figures. It said attackers were also going further out to sea.

“We need to change the risk-to-reward ratio...,” IMB Director Michael Howlett said last month. “Without an appropriate and proportionate deterrent, pirates and robbers will get more ruthless and more ambitious.”

Oil rich Nigeria has been reeling from the effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic and a slump in the price of crude oil in the global market.