10 April 2018

Pirate Attacks on VLCCs and Other Merchant Vessels Increase  

New Areas Become Hotspots for Maritime Hijacks

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Shipping News Feature WORLDWIDE – The International Chamber of Commerce's International Maritime Bureau (IMB) has warned that a surge in armed attacks against ships around West Africa is once again pushing up global levels of piracy and armed robbery at sea. The IMB's Piracy Reporting Centre recorded a total of 66 incidents in the first quarter of 2018, up from 43 for the same period in 2017. 29 of the recorded incidents originated in the Gulf of Guinea more than 40% of the global total. Of the 114 seafarers captured worldwide, all but one were in this region.

Worldwide in the first three months of 2018, 100 crew were taken hostage and 14 kidnapped from their vessels. A total of 39 vessels were boarded, 11 fired upon and 4 vessels hijacked. IMB received a further 12 reports of attempted attacks. Whilst things off the coast of Somalia, where a smorgasbord of naval forces regularly patrol to subdue the pirate menace have subsided, seas off the West African shoreline have become an unwelcome hotspot.

All four vessels hijackings were in the Gulf of Guinea, where no hijackings were reported in 2017. Two product tankers were hijacked from Cotonou, Benin anchorage in mid-January and early February, prompting the IMB PRC to issue a warning to ships. Towards the end of March, two fishing vessels were hijacked 30 nautical miles off Nigeria and 27 nautical miles off Ghana. Nigeria alone recorded 22 incidents. Of the 11 vessels fired upon worldwide, eight were off Nigeria, including a 300,000 tonne deadweight VLCC tanker more than 40 nautical miles off Brass, at the mouth of the river Niger. The IMB commented:

“The hijacking of product tankers from anchorages in the Gulf of Guinea is a cause of concern. In these cases, the intent of the perpetrators is to steal the oil cargo and kidnap any crew. The prompt detection and response to any unauthorised movements of an anchored vessel could help in the effective response to such attacks.

“Attacks in the Gulf of Guinea are against all vessels. Crews have been taken hostage and kidnapped from fishing and refrigerated cargo vessels as well as product tankers. In some cases, the attacks have been avoided by the early detection of an approaching skiff, evasive action taken by the vessel and the effective use of citadels. The IMB is working with national and regional authorities in the Gulf of Guinea to support ships and coordinate counter piracy actions. The authorities from Benin, Nigeria and Togo have sent out boats in response to several incidents.”

Just one incident was reported off Somalia, where a product tanker was fired upon and chased by two skiffs around 160 nautical miles south east of Hobyo. At the end of March, a 160,000 DWT tanker reported being fired upon in the Gulf of Aden, while transiting within the Maritime Security Transit Corridor. Despite the downturn in attacks the distance from land, sighting of ladders and intermittent firing upon ships continues to illustrate that the Somali pirates retain the capability and intent to attack merchant shipping in the wider Indian Ocean.

Indonesia recorded nine low level attacks against anchored vessels. Five bulk carriers reported actual or attempted attacks at Muara Berau anchorage in Samarinda, while waiting to load coal cargoes.

Photo: Piracy in and around the Niger Delta is often the work of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), a group we have written on previously.

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