African piracy actually involves two different types of activity and method, as the way pirates operate differs from one African coast to the other. The eastern coast, giving onto the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, is characterised by acts of piracy on the high seas, committed by Somalis. Although the country does not have a seafaring tradition, these perpetrators have been quick to take on this new activity of kidnapping crews and hijacking ships. On the western coast, the Gulf of Guinea has seen a resurgence of piracy, with Nigeria as its epicentre. Although the motives remain vague – political and environmental demands – the pirates of the Gulf of Guinea target the oil industry and local port-based economies. Here also, as on the eastern coast, the pirates are lacking in maritime culture.
The geographical scope of the African piracy phenomenon also reveals two opposing trends. In the Gulf of Guinea, perpetrators only carry out attacks in coastal areas and piracy is contagiously spreading out along the coastline. In the Gulf of Aden, however, pirates only carry out attacks on major global maritime routes out on the high seas, sometimes travelling up to 2000 km away from the coast. However, this difference observed between the two African coasts should not make us forget that the piracy phenomenon can also be viewed as the modern-day use of a hitherto ignored spatial resource. Beyond the threat to humans and their activities, piracy can but serve to remind us that maritime space – out on the high seas at least – does not belong to anyone.