Vigilante force helps police curb piracy in Niger delta

Bayelsa State in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger delta region has set up an armed vigilante force to help curb growing piracy in its waterways that has claimed dozens of lives this year and disrupted river transport.

Abel Ebifomowei, a special adviser to Bayelsa governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, said on Friday that the 400-strong vigilante force would, in addition to combating piracy, help in securing oil pipelines in the state against oil thieves.

"Some of the youths will be integrated into police patrols," he said. Their knowledge of the difficult delta terrain and its communities would be useful assets to the police, he added.

Ebifomowei said the state government would provide the vigilante group with vehicles, speedboats, mobile phones and two-way radios to facilitate their efficient operation and easy sharing of information.

This year, more than 30 people, including eight policeman have been killed by pirates often armed with sophisticated weapons in various attacks, officials said. Their targets have been mostly traders who have lost large sums of money and many valuables, they added.

The pirates were also linked to the widespread cases of theft of crude oil from pipelines in the region. The oil is siphoned into barges and transferred to bigger vessels ofshore for sale abroad.

In June this year incessant attacks along the waterways forced many commercial speedboat operators in the worst hit parts of Bayelsa State, including River Nun, parts of the Forcados River and Tungbo Creek, to suspend their services.

In one incident in August at least eight people were killed in an attack on the town of Ekeremor in Bayelsa State, blamed on pirates said to have launched a reprisal attack after a suspected pirate was lynched by a vigilante group in
the town.