Risk in the MSGBC Basin

Our Chief Operating Officer, Lawrence Clinton, recently gave a presentation to delegates attending the MSGBC Basin Symposium at the Geological Society of London. The presentation aimed to inform delegates of the ‘Above Ground Risk within the MSGBC Basin’.

Opportunity in the MSGBC Basin

The MSGBC is an acronym for the countries in which the basin (or more accurately a collection of mini sub-basins) resides, namely Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau and Guinea-Conakry. Interest in the region increased significantly between 2014 and 2017 following a number of large-scale hydrocarbon discoveries in the offshore waters straddling the border of Mauritania and Senegal.

Today, amid ongoing discoveries, encompassing the waters from Mauritania southwards to Guinea, the basin covers an area of 600,000km2 and has become a development hotspot, placing it near the top of the list as one of Africa’s most exciting opportunities for exploration and development.

Beyond the sizeable offshore oil and gas reserves that remain a talking point for investors, the operating environment across these countries is also attractive when compared to the wider continent. The MSGBC region is not without its own security and political challenges but in contrast to many of the countries in the Sahel region that have fairly constant problems caused by Islamist extremist groups, or others in Central Africa and the Great Lakes Region, the MSGBC countries as a whole benefit generally from political stability and the absence of either civil wars or significant armed insurgencies.

Countries such as Senegal and Mauritania, in particular, play a strategic role as a buffer zone from what security analysts typically refer to as ‘the arc of instability’ that spreads from Mali all the way East to Somalia and down to the DRC in Central Africa. The primary security risks here remain terrorism and conflict.

In addition to this relative stability, the MSGBC countries also offer more favourable investment climates, although to varying degrees. Notably, in recent years these countries have been climbing up the global rankings reflecting improved business and compliance conditions as ranked by institutions such as the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, and the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative. Together, these factors help to facilitate a stable, more business-friendly operating environment throughout the Basin.

Growing Terrorism on the Doorstep

While MSGBC countries may be stable and secure, we cannot ignore the fact that they are located in a deteriorating neighbourhood. Indeed, a key source of instability is the neighbouring country of Mali. After its first coup in 2012, Mali has been labelled the “Sick Man of Africa” as its downfall has contributed to rising instability in the region.

The key concern here is conflict and terrorist activity, as Africa, as a whole, has become the world’s primary theatre for extremist violence over the last two decades. Unfortunately, the terrorist threat has escalated. Islamic State and Al Qaeda groups are not only operating in these regions but they are competing for primacy, as such, the theatre of conflict in West Africa and the Sahel has widened significantly over the last 5 years.

This is demonstrated by comparing terrorism-related deaths over two decades: the 2000s versus the 2010s. While all African regions have experienced an increase, the rate increased by a staggering 600% in sub-Saharan Africa. Indeed, three of the countries that registered the largest increases during this period are in the MSGBC’s neighbourhood, namely: Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. As such, militancy has come to characterise this region.

This expansion is currently pushing southwards from the Sahel countries, skirting the bordering regions of the basin, to affect Gulf of Guinea coastal states. Notably, over the past year or two, we have seen increasing attempts at cross-border attacks into Benin, Togo, Ghana and Ivory Coast and this trend will likely continue to rise next year.

While there is limited evidence to show that there is the capability to push westwards by militants into the MSGBC Basin, they will have the intent to target these countries – not least because Senegal and Mauritania are French speaking and involved in regional counter-terrorism efforts.

Indeed, the headquarters of one of the regional counter-terrorism efforts – the G5 Sahel – which encompasses joint efforts by Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger and Mauritania, is headquartered in Mauritania.

Offshore Piracy and Maritime Crime

The MSGBC basin is also flanked by a great deal of offshore piracy and criminal activity. Piracy is a well-known threat in GOG waters. Since 2012, the Gulf of Guinea region, and its southern Nigerian epicentre, have accounted for the highest number of major piracy and maritime kidnapping incidents globally, surpassing East Africa’s coastal waters, which were long regarded as the most dangerous for seafarers.

Since 2012, Niger Delta-based pirate groups and their criminal associates have steadily extended their operational reach across the Gulf of Guinea – utilising onshore bases in the Niger Delta to target commercial and other vessels transiting the region. Maritime piracy remains a preferred tactic of militant groups in the region and the number of incidents rose significantly just prior to the pandemic.

  • There were just 37 kidnappings region-wide in 2015, before peaking at 142 in 2020.
  • The share of victims holding a foreign nationality similarly increased during this period, reflecting the higher perceived ransom value of foreign hostages.

However, instances of piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea have dramatically decreased from 123 incidents in 2020 to 45 in 2021. The trend has continued this year. This reduction can be attributed to a number of factors including:

  • Piracy convictions in Nigeria and Togo.
  • DeepBlue project, increasing local Naval presence and cooperation.
  • Deployment of foreign navies.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic can also not be overlooked, as all piracy and maritime crime-affected regions globally experienced similar down surges in incident reports during 2021.

As such, it is still too early to tell if we are seeing an entrenched trend or a temporary reprieve for the sector. Amid rising socio-economic pressures region-wide and globally, it is highly likely that this will emerge as a popular attack vector after the Nigerian elections as militants look to increase their revenues.

For our MSGBC countries, it is safe to say that for now this threat is largely concentrated on the edges of its neighbouring territory with very few incidents attempted in or near the basin in recent years. However, as with terrorism onshore, this is a trend that requires monitoring particularly as increased offshore activity in the MSGBC basin could attract unwanted attention from onshore groups who also want to exploit our increased interests in the region.


History has time and time again shown how threats on the edges of a region have come to affect peaceful states as institutional weaknesses and opportunities are exploited by those with criminal intent.

In conclusion, the MSGBC Basin today remains a positive and promising opportunity in the wider African oil and gas story. Threats do remain but it is important to note that all of these threats can be mitigated to ensure safe operations through a carefully implemented security plan.

More Information

Castor Vali has provided maritime security solutions since 2011 to clients through the Gulf of Guinea and Indian Ocean High-Risk Areas. We are proud to provide a wide range of maritime services to help maintain ship and crew security at sea. 

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If you are interested to hear more about our range of offshore security services, please contact us at info@castorvali.com

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