Sunday, 28 April 2013

Pirates vs Tourists vs Economists

 local skiff comes under scrutiny
With our three-man security detachment ashore in Sierra Leone, it can now
safely be assumed our highest risk of pirate attack is behind us. Even then,
that risk was only ever assessed as slight despite the knowledge that pirate
attacks were taking place against vessels near the Niger Delta at the very
time we were sailing through.

Talking confidentially to the ex-British Armed Forces men from a high
profile security firm I have agreed not to name, they never conveyed the
sense of real or imminent danger. That said, like any security precaution,
it is wise never to take matters for granted and clearly the ship owner's
risk assessors coupled with the advice of their insurers meant that it was
decreed we would be prepared to meet any threat regardless.

From the data available, it is clear that attacks are currently aimed at
unprotected vessels, mainly tankers while at their most vulnerable, namely
at anchor. Firsthand accounts were available too. One of our Filipino crew
members has been aboard a vessel subject to pirate attack in these waters –
twice.

While no attacks or attempted attacks have been mounted against passenger
vessels, that is not to say such a modification in pirate tactics may not
occur at some stage. The greatest defense any vessel can mount is a display
of preparedness. Sea pirates, like most common bandits, are looking for easy
pickings against vulnerable targets. With our coils of razor wire at the
only point of possible entry, fixed fire hoses and men with visible weapons
ready for action, the level of difficulty is more than sufficient to deter
the majority of opportunistic raiders.

While the causes and motivation for piracy can be discussed at length, there
is one catalyst that can not be ignored. Here in West Africa the vigorous
exploitation of oil, unchecked deforestation and depletion of fish stocks by
foreign trawlers is impacting on the centuries-old subsistence lifestyles of
the local people. Their resentment coupled with loss of food and already
meagre income will turn some to wage a quasi-war against those they see as
interlopers – an example already very clear in Nigeria.

guest enjoys interaction with local village children in Togo
While tourism may not create the lure of fantastic wealth like mineral
resources, it can nevertheless play a part in delivering funds directly into
the hands of those who need it most and may otherwise be missing out, namely
at the village level. On this G Adventures expedition, there have been
numerous examples of how our visits have directly benefited local
communities and how the development of responsible and sustainable tourism
practices can go some way to alleviating the sense of loss and isolation
traditional social systems may feel in a rapidly globalised world
threatening to pass them by. The most memorable example, in my mind, being
the very personal interaction we had with the villagers and paramount chief
at Akato Viepe in rural Togo.

"Apart from the obvious revenue benefits, such displays maintain the
viability of local culture, providing an incentive for both its remaining
alive and vibrant, but also a framework for it to continue evolving, bearing
in mind that culture is fundamentally organic," says Peter Baxter, an
African eco-tourism expert along as part of the expedition team. "A lack of
formats such as this for cultural display will obviously result in many
cultures stagnating and ultimately disappearing under the weight of modern
influences."

Let's hope the relatively recent interest in West Africa as a cruise tourism
destination draws attention to the plight of the ordinary people and their
struggle for a fair go.



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