The Liberian-flagged oil tanker MT Kerala disappeared seven nautical miles (nm) off the coast of Angola's capital Luanda on 18 January. The vessel's owner, the Greek company Dynacom Tankers Management Ltd, said it had lost communications with the vessel and reported an act of piracy.
On 26 January, the company reported that the ship had been discovered off the Nigerian coast and stated that 60,000 tonnes of diesel had been stolen, but the crew was unharmed. However, the Angolan Navy has disputed this account of the incident, instead alleging collusion by the Kerala crew in oil theft, under cover of a simulated pirate attack. However, the ship owner denied the allegations. In addition, the company and the Angolan Navy have stuck to their respective accounts of the incident, and no independent information has been disclosed yet in order to validate the conflicting explanations.
From a legal perspective, sea piracy normally involves hijacking in international waters; however, in this and other similar instances, the hijacked ship was allegedly taken by force transiting international waters, causing the incident to be considered as an act of piracy.
Most of the violent marine crime carried out by Niger Delta pirates is not initiated in international waters but targets ships at anchor, mainly off the regions' congested ports. Most of the crime involves theft of personal property and ship's stores and kidnapping of crew, rather than hijacking. A total of seven tankers have been hijacked with the purpose of stealing oil since December 2012.
If this incident proves to have been a hijacking for oil theft, it would represent a significant extension southwards of the risks of Nigeria-based marine criminal activity – which until now has been focused on the Gulf of Guinea – as far west as Cote d'Ivoire. The most southerly hijacking to date was of an oil products tanker off Gabon in July 2013. The mounting of a hijacking 640nm further south would be surprising, given the availability of easier targets much closer to the pirates' support base and black market for stolen oil in the Niger Delta.
On 17 January 2014, Minister of Transport, Civil Aviation, and Merchant Marines Rodolphe Adada charged the administrators of the Port of Pointe-Noire (Port Autonome de Pointe-Noire: PAPN) in the Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville) with revising the port's administrative master plan for 2014 in a bid to improve efficiency, rentability, and sustainability of port operations.
PAPN is the most important deep-water port in the Gulf of Guinea, as well as Congo-Brazzaville's main commercial port and the hub of its offshore oil industry. Adada's call to make it compliant with international norms, such as the 2004 International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS), is likely to improve port security and efficiency of operations for cargo operators. Adada also requested an improvement in secondary river ports and the dredging of shipping lanes. In addition, he asked local authorities along the coastline and mining companies operating in the area to contribute to the treatment of pollution.
PAPN Deputy Director Bernard Serge Bouya is also the brother of Jean-Jacques Bouya, President Denis Sassou-Nguesso's cousin and the minister of state of territorial administration, planning, and public works, which indicates the close interest the president takes in the smooth running of – and revenues generated by – the PAPN.
While this is a first step towards improving the port's management, the introduction of environmental regulations is likely to increase regulatory and corruption risks for cargo and port operators, and oil and mining companies. In addition to oil operators Total, ENI, and Perenco, mining companies likely to be affected by environmental regulations include Xstrata's Zanago iron-ore project in Lekoumou, Exxaro Resources' (SA) Mayoko iron-ore project, Cominco's Hinda phosphate mine, and Canadian MagIndustries' Mengo potash project.
Cargo terminal concession holder Bolloré is less likely to be affected due to its 27-year, USD780-million investment plan for the development of port infrastructure agreed with the PAPN in 2008.
Liberian finance minister Amara Konneh has blamed "serious tax evasion" for the government's revenue shortfall, during his briefing on the country's 2013/14 budget at the House of Representatives on 21 January.
The 2013/14 national budget was approved in August 2013 with a projected revenue of USD553 million. This figure does not include borrowing, contingent revenue and cash of USD3 million brought forward from fiscal year 2012/13. The finance minister noted that, as of 8 January, there was a revenue shortfall of about USD19million and the possibility of government overspending on public-sector salaries.
To plug the revenue shortfall, Konneh has set up a taskforce to pursue tax evaders and boost revenue collection, which began operations on 22 January. However, the shortfall may also be partly attributable to corruption in government, including the Department of Customs and Revenue.
In April 2013, A US government report stated that Liberia's efforts to fight corruption were inadequate and its anti-graft agency, the Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), was poorly equipped. In July 2013, the LACC warned that parliament's refusal to grant it prosecution powers would undermine its anti-corruption fight in the country. International monitoring organisation Human Rights Watch reported in August 2013 of rampant corruption in the Liberian police force, with officers engaging in extortion, bribery, and theft.
There is a risk that the taskforce will abuse its power by imposing arbitrary fines on firms accused of tax evasion. Firms in various sectors, in particular those that are highly profitable, which include the mining, telecoms, and agribusiness sectors, face the risk of political pressure from the minister's taskforce to increase their tax contributions. Foreign companies are at greater risk of this, as local firms are more likely to bribe officers.
On 16 January, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) encouraged donors to continue to make planned disbursements of general budgetary support to Mozambique. Several donors to Mozambique (collectively known as G19), including the UK, US, Canada, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, are considering withdrawing general budgetary support in 2014.
At a G19 meeting in Maputo in November 2013, donors publicly expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of transparency regarding use of proceeds from an USD850-million Eurobond in September 2013. Donors also have criticised the handling of municipal elections in November 2013 by the National Electoral Commission (Comissão Nacional Eleitora: CNE). This criticism follows a Constitutional Council ruling on 23 January stating that CNE and ruling party officials had committed electoral violations. The G19 provides 40% of Mozambique's USD400 million general budget support in 2013. Canada and Norway already have reduced assistance over alleged corruption in the Ministry of Education.
Given the IMF's encouragement to disburse funds, the World Bank (the largest donor), African Development Bank, EU and countries such as France, Italy and Portugal are all likely to continue support in 2014. Countries that withdraw budgetary support face increased risk of discrimination in state tender processes, such as large construction contracts for the development of railways – to support the coal mining sector – and liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants.
Moreover, if G19 countries withdraw general budgetary support or the US ends co-operation through the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which disbursed USD507 million to Mozambique between 2007 and 2013, risk of non-payment to state contractors, especially construction firms, will increase. Large construction firms in Mozambique include China Road and Bridge Corporation, Per Aarsleff A/S, Italthai Engineering, Stefanutti Stocks, Soares da Costa and Camargo Corrêa.
Senegalese president Macky Sall disclosed in an interview on 24 January 2014 in Davos (Switzerland) his administration's plan to increase the country's economic growth to 7%, with the mining sector playing a significant role. The government is revising the mining code to attract foreign investments while maximising revenue.
In December 2013, a government spokesperson pointed out that the government had not adequately benefited from mining sector profits over the past 10 years, receiving only 2% from a total of USD294 million. The review of the mining code, which started under former president Abdoulaye Wade, was meant to be finalised in 2013, but was delayed by the government's decision to hold extensive consultations.
According to a report by Seneweb, Director of Mines Ousmane Cissé suggested in a 22 January interview that the revised mining code will result in the (re)negotiation of some mining concessions, including the multimillion-dollar Sabadola mines operated by Teranga Gold Corporation, a Canadian-based gold firm. He also mentioned that certain exemptions will be reviewed and tax breaks shortened to end in.
A new mining code is likely to bring greater clarity to the mining industry. However, it raises the risk of contract reviews and increased bureaucracy relating to tax declarations as the government seeks to increase its tax revenue. Increasing interest in the mining sector (gold, iron ore, and zircon) makes it likely that the government will expedite the review of the mining code and enact it in 2014.
An Australian-based firm, Mineral Deposits Ltd, is expected to start production in March 2014 at the Grande Cote zircon mine in the Casamance region. The government is also currently seeking investors for the Faleme iron-ore project holding an estimated 750 million metric tonnes, located southeast of Senegal.