January 11 - Pirates have been operating in waters off the coast of Africa, some of the world's busiest shipping lanes, for many years now. In recent times they have become increasingly sophisticated and aggressive when it comes to seizing vessels.

To combat the threat, the European Union (EU) has announced a new project that will boost the security and safety of maritime routes across seven African countries in the Gulf of Guinea - the Critical Maritime Routes in the Gulf of Guinea Programme (CRIMGO).

The Gulf of Guinea currently accounts for 13 percent of oil and six percent of gas imports to the EU. However, piracy and armed robbery, as well as drug, arms and human trafficking pose a real threat to the security of the region.

The CRIMGO initiative will help governments across West and Central Africa to improve safety of the main shipping routes by providing training for coastguards, and by establishing an information-sharing network between countries and agencies in the regions.

At present there is a lack of coordination between regions and between coastguards, no common standard for maritime training, as well as a lack of information sharing between partners. The aim of the EU initiative is to address these issues and in turn improve the safety and security of these essential shipping lanes.

The project will be rolled out from January 2013 in seven African coastal states: Benin, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Nigeria, Sâo Tomé and Principe and Togo.

European commissioner for development Andris Piebalgs (pictured below) announced the project: "Without security, development can never properly reach the people it needs to. That's why our new project, which will help to boost transport security in Western Africa, is so crucial.

"By making the waters safe, we are helping to boost trade and growth and provide more opportunities to make a living, which these countries so desperately need," he added.

The EU has supported the CRIMGO initiative with EUR4.5 million of funding.

On the eastern side of the continent, reports in the international media have claimed that Somali pirate kingpin "Afweyneh" - meaning Big Mouth in Somali - has renounced crime and agreed to stop pirating.

It is claimed that Afweyneh, real name Mohamed Abdi Hassan, after eight years of attacking and seizing vessels of the coast of Africa has agreed to stop.

A UN monitoring group last year identified Afweynah as "one of the most notorious and influential leaders of the Hobyo-Harardhere Piracy Network." He is alleged to have been involved in the capture of Ukrainian ship MV Faina, carrying Russian-made tanks and weapons, and receiving a ransom of USD3.2 million. Afweyneh's pirate network is also believed to have received a USD3 million ransom for the release of the Saudi-owned Sirius Star supertanker in 2008.

Successful pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia fell sharply in 2012. The decline is believed to be a result of increased use of private security guards on ships and better coordination between naval patrols in the area.