The Gulf of Guinea is one of the most dangerous gulfs in the world because of the widespread piracy that has affected a number of countries in West Africa and the larger international community. It is the northeasternmost portion of the tropical Atlantic Ocean located off the western coast of Africa, extending from Cape Palmas in Liberia to Cape Lopez in Gabon. Several rivers drain into the Gulf of Guinea including the Niger River and the Volta River. The Gulf’s coastline includes the Bight of Bonny and Bight of Benin and forms the western edge of the African tectonic plate. The coastline is also similar to the continental margin of South America, constituting a clear confirmation of the theory of continental drift.
Origin of the Name
The origin of the name “Guinea” is not clear but most sources are of the agreement that it is a name of a region in the area. The name was also used to refer to the south coast of West Africa (Upper Guinea) which is on the northern side of the Gulf of Guinea and the west coast of Southern Africa (Lower Guinea) which is to the east of the gulf. The name “Guinea” is also used by three other African countries, namely Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and Guinea. "Guinea" is also in use outside Africa; Papua New Guinea occupies the eastern side of the island of New Guinea in the southwestern Pacific Ocean.
The Gulf of Guinea has a narrow continental shelf that widens to only 100 miles from Sierra Leon to Guinea-Bissau. The northern coast of the Gulf of Guinea is washed by the Guinea Current. Its tropical waters are separated from the Canart and Benguela currents by a sharp coastal frontal area off the Senegal River and Congo River respectively. As the Benguela Current flows westwards, it forms the South Equatorial Current to the south. The Gulf of Guinea has warm tropical waters with low salinity because of the rivers that drain into it and the high rainfall in the region. This warm water is separated from the colder, more saline waters by a thin layer of water between the lower and upper levels. The Gulf of Guinea has a volcanic region known as the island arc which is aligned with the Cameroon line of volcanoes. The islands on the arc extend some 450 miles offshore to the southwest. Some of these islands include Annobon, Bioko, Corisco, and Elobey Grande (all in Equatorial Guinea), Bobowasi in Ghana, and the island nation of Sao Tome and Principe.
Piracy on the Gulf of Guinea is widespread and has become a global concern, affecting several West African countries as well as other countries outside of Africa. The pirates operating on the gulf are always heavily armed and violent who mainly target cargo ships. So far, the number of vessels attacked by these criminals is about 100 every year. In 2017, about 96 seafarers were kidnapped, an increase from 44 the previous year. The overall aim of the pirates is to steal oil cargo and rarely hold a vessel for ransom.