The EU announced funding worth £1.3 million ($1.72m) for a four-year training programme to improve the safety of vessels in the Gulf of Guinea as pirate attacks increase.
The Italian Navy ship Martinengo, which was patrolling in the region, took part in a rescue operation on Tuesday after the latest pirate attack, the eighth in nine days.
Pirates had boarded the Zhen Hua 7, a heavy lift ship registered in Liberia, and kidnapped 14 crew members. One man was flown to hospital.
The Gulf of Guinea has long been plagued by piracy, money laundering, trafficking in drugs, people and arms, and illegal fishing.
The EU’s £1.3m grant will fund 16 maritime training programmes between 2021 and 2024, starting in January.
“These transnational criminal activities endanger not only the economic development of the region and the livelihoods of local communities, but also international trade as a whole,” it said.
“In order to address these challenges, which directly affect the development potential of the maritime domain of the states of the Gulf of Guinea and undermine efforts to promote economic development and regional integration, the European Union awarded a grant to the Interregional Maritime Safety Institute of the Regional Academy of Marine Sciences and Techniques.”
The Italian Navy has been patrolling the region in recent weeks and its marines went to the rescue of numerous vessels.
"While patrolling in the Gulf of Guinea, marines intervened to rescue the Liberian merchant vessel Zhen Hua 7, which had suffered a pirate attack during the night," it said.
“The military vessel closed distance and managed to establish communications with the vessel in distress. It was informed that the pirates had escaped and that a crew member was wounded in the legs. A team of marines of the San Marco Brigade, specialised in inspection and control activities on board merchant ships, was sent to verify the safety of those on board and to allow the intervention of the medical team.
“A few days ago, the same frigate was involved in a similar episode, which confirms how the Gulf of Guinea has become one of the world's most dangerous maritime areas.
“The Italian Navy frigate is operating with the aim of contributing to the safety of maritime routes and national interests and to grant merchant ships in the area the free use of these important sea routes.”
The region off West Africa’s coast now accounts for 95 per cent of global maritime kidnappings.
Experts say the bulk of the attackers come from Nigeria’s Niger Delta.