THREE suspected pirates from Nigeria have been released at sea by the Danish Navy, and a fourth prosecuted, following an attack in the Gulf of Guinea last year.

In November 2021, Danish frigate Esbern Snare exchanged fire with a group of suspected pirates in a skiff full of piracy equipment in the waters south of Nigeria.

The Danish vessel has been part of an international anti-piracy effort in the Gulf of Guinea since October last year.

Of the nine suspected pirates involved, four were killed, one was wounded and three were taken into custody onboard the frigate, where they had been held since the incident.

Suspects’ statements and video footage from Danish armed forces indicate there was a ninth person in the group who likely fell overboard from the skiff, though the person was not found during search efforts.

No Danish personnel were harmed in the incident.

The wounded person was transferred to a hospital in Ghana but has since been flown to Denmark. They faced court in Copenhagen on 7 January.

A report from Reuters said the individual was charged with the attempted manslaughter of Danish soldiers.

Charges against the remaining three were withdrawn after Denmark failed to find a country within the region to take them.

Following the release of the suspected pirates, BIMCO issued a statement asserting that states in the Gulf of Guinea must take responsibility and enhance prosecution efforts when pirates are apprehended by international navies.

The statement said that, since the arrival of international navies in the Gulf of Guinea, the number of pirate attacks and kidnapped seafarers in the region has dropped significantly.

In the fourth quarter of 2020, an estimated 23 attacks were made against merchant ships trading in the Gulf of Guinea, and 50 seafarers were kidnapped.

In the fourth quarter of 2021, these numbers had dropped to seven attacks and 20 kidnappings.

BIMCO secretary general and CEO David Loosley said bringing suspected pirates to justice is best done by regional coastal states.

“The presence of international navies is a very important step in the right direction to keep seafarers safe but establishing a sustainable security situation in the Gulf of Guinea cannot happen without full support of the region,” he said.

“We have seen suspected pirates brought to justice in the region before. International collaboration between regional jurisdictions and non-regional military forces holds a tremendous potential that cannot be missed.”

According to BIMCO, Gulf of Guinea coastal states are becoming increasingly focused on maritime security and several initiatives are underway, such as Nigeria’s Deep Blue project.

Launched in June last year, the project is an integrated maritime security strategy for West and Central Africa aimed at combatting piracy, sea robbery, and other crimes at sea.

Despite its intentions, the project has still not been deployed on active anti-piracy operations, reinforcing BIMCO’s call for greater action.

“If regional coastal states help prosecute apprehended pirates it will significantly strengthen the case for capacity building and support from the international community and underpin the development of the blue economy in West Africa,” BIMCO’s head of maritime safety and security Jakob Larsen said.