Sunday, August 10, 2014

Maritime Security Group Warns of Pirate Tactics Changing as Product Tanker Attacked

Night Time Attempt Mirrors Traditional Somali Hijacks
Shipping News Feature

NIGERIA – Problems pile up in the region as an Ebola infection was not the only ‘first’ for a form of attack this week as maritime security specialists, Dryad Maritime, tells us there has been a night time attack on a product tanker in the Gulf of Guinea using automatic weapons, a tactic which mirrors the pirate activity we had grown more used to on the opposite coast before better policing and tactics were introduced. The vessel was set upon by up to three skiffs working from a mother ship nearby.

The incident occurred on Saturday August 9 some 200 nautical miles off the Nigerian shoreline as the innocent vessel sailed south. The suspected mother ship was detected lying in wait ahead and shortly after the attack was launched by three smaller boats which engaged the crew with bursts of automatic gunfire. In the confusion the pirates then attempted to gain access to the tankers deck via the stern. Ian Millen, Chief Operating Officer, Dryad Maritime, commented:

“The attempted boarding of a vessel underway, especially at night and this far out in open seas, is a tactic more usually associated with highly motivated Somali pirates, and only then on a small number of occasions. Whilst we have seen similar attacks on vessels off the Niger Delta up to 160 nautical miles out, these have been crew kidnap incidents. It is unusual to see an attempted hijack of an underway tanker at such ranges from the shore and the numbers of craft involved suggest that this was an attempt at cargo theft. This could be a real game changer for this specific type of crime if repeated; one that would match the strategic shock earlier in the year when a tanker, from an anchorage off Angola. MT Kerala, was snatched

“It would be easy to characterise this event as just another statistic in the story of Gulf of Guinea maritime crime, but to do so would be missing one very significant point – the open ocean nature of what looks like an intelligence-led operation. The victim vessel was in transit between a Gulf of Guinea port and a destination further south. If the departure and destination ports were known, and the mother ship had a suitable equipment fit, it is possible that the pirates could sit along the likely route and intercept the vessel whilst underway. With the amount of data shared on maritime movements, it is even conceivable that the ship’s passage plan could have fallen into the wrong hands, making this an even simpler criminal mission.”

Fortunately, on this occasion, the vessel was both well prepared and alert and implemented anti-piracy drills; both ship and crew are reported as safe, however the whereabouts of the criminals, skiffs and mother ship are still unknown. As a result of the attack, Dryad Maritime have issued an immediate advisory to ship operators transiting the area. Dryad’s team of analysts predict that the incident could signal a step change in terms of both pirate capability and tactics and a development that regional forces would be unlikely to be able to deal with.

Photo: Courtesy EU Navfor.