Gulf of Guinea piracy evolving, crew on moving vessels ‘easiest targets’

by Jamey Bergman
Piracy is becoming a more significant problem for vessels operating in the Gulf of Guinea in spite of a worldwide drop in piracy during 2017. International Maritime Bureau (IMB) Assistant Director Cyrus Mody told Tanker Shipping and Trade that there have been 17 incidents reported in the region in the first two months of 2018, nearly half the 36 incidents reported to the group in the whole of 2017, with the majority occurring in the waters off Nigeria and Benin. “We have on record 15 incidents between Nigeria and Benin, and four were in the Cotonou Anchorage,” Mr Mody said. The number of incidents reported to the IMB, however, pale in comparison to those cited by Africa Risk Compliance, a security contractor and consultancy specialising in operations in Africa. Fleet operations director in the group’s London office Max Williams told Tanker Shipping & Trade that the group was aware of well over 100 incidents in the region in the last 12 months. The discrepancy – and possibly the recent uptick in piracy reports from the region – could be explained by systematic underreporting. Mr Mody explained “There is a huge underreporting from vessels in the Gulf of Guinea, and we would hope that we are seeing these higher numbers from increased repoting in the region. We always encourage masters and operators and owners to report these incidents as soon as possible. We always alert authorities to respond to reports of piracy, but reporting also helps other masters in the area to know where incidents are occurring.” Independent shipping brokerage Asket, which publishes its own daily security alerts for the shipping sector, said piracy strategies in the Gulf of Guinea are shifting to focus on human crew. “We have certainly seen a change in tactics in the Gulf of Guinea over the past 12 months and it is likely that these will develop further throughout 2018,” Asket’s business and compliance director Emma Mitchell-Biggs told Tanker Shipping and Trade. Ms Mitchell-Biggs said protection measures such as safe anchorages, escort vessels and co-ordinated response to incidents on the part of the Nigerian Navy had made ship-to-ship siphoning thefts more difficult for pirate gangs patrolling the region. The downturn in product theft, she said, had resulted in an increase in attacks at sea aimed at capturing crew and ships to be held for ransom. “Increase in protection around the ports and fields … means that the easiest targets are now attacks on vessels underway,” she said. In the wider region, however, attacks on ships at anchor have seen an uptick. Recent high-profile incidents over a period of a few weeks in late January and early February 2018 saw two tanker vessels and their crews taken hostage off the coast of Nigerian neighbour Benin in the Gulf of Guinea.”We’ve seen two hijackings so far this year, and this is something which we have not seen since 2011. In 2011, we had reports of around eight hijackings from around the Cotonou region,” Mr Mody said. Ms Mitchell-Biggs warned there was no reason to believe these types of attacks would stop. “We have seen gangs who are boarding vessels at anchor – most notably in the Cotonou anchorage offshore Benin – where the vessel is sailed away from the coast with the intent to conduct short-term hijacks for kidnap and ransom,” she said. “There is no reason why this trend will not spread further west, for example in Abidjan anchorage [Ivory Coast] where several boardings were seen last year.” Ships at anchorages can pose relatively easy targets for pirates operating in small, lightly armed and difficult to detect teams of one or two skiffs. These teams are capable of staying mostly hidden among similar small craft at anchor while looking for targets and disappearing quickly if discovered, she said. According to Ms Mitchell-Biggs, preparation is key to avoiding this type of attack.”Good planning and rehearsals for the whole crew, the use of intelligence and all round situational awareness including alert lookouts, the management of AIS, and use of radars tuned to pick up smaller targets,” are some of the measures she suggested. Ms Mitchell-Biggs also cited the fourth iteration of IMO’s Best Management Practices for Somali-based piracy as a starting point for preparing ships to resist attacks. “Adapted BMP4 type measures are key to controlling access and ingress,” and, she said “a secure and equipped citadel has been proven to work time and again.” At least one tanker operator has responded to increased piracy in the region by implementing ship-hardening measures. source: tankershipping




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The Maritime Security Alliance is a platform of maritime stakeholders aimed to provide ships with non-lethal, non-violent protection against maritime crime. Continuous innovation and creative thinking of its expert team will improve security conditions for seafarers by ensuring effective, legitimate and affordable self-protection measures.

The Maritime Security Alliance offers the service of one single contact for integrated solutions against piracy.

 

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