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LAGOS: Nigeria and several Western allies have begun annual joint naval drills in the Gulf of Guinea to combat piracy and other criminal activities, officials said Wednesday.

The area is a major maritime trade route stretching from Senegal to Angola, but a recent surge in piracy attacks has prompted shippers to call for a more robust foreign naval presence.

Armed kidnappings of seafarers hit record levels in 2020, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), with the region accounting for 130 out of 135 attacks worldwide.

Pirates kidnapped 15 crew members earlier this month from a Dutch-owned chemical tanker after boarding the vessel off the coast of Benin.

Nigerian navy spokesman Suleman Dahun told AFP the annual multinational exercise code named “Obaganme Express”, kicked off in Lagos on Saturday.

The five-day exercise “is aimed at improving tactical interdiction expertise in the fight against piracy and other maritime illegalities within the Gulf of Guinea (GoG).”

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