Monday, June 6, 2016

Niger Delta Sees Piracy Attacks Against Oilfield and Tanker Vessels Rise Alarmingly

Pirates Prosper Whilst Terrorist/Freedom Fighter (take your pick) Activity Increases
Shipping News Feature
NIGERIA – The complex political situation in the Niger Delta has taken another twist lately as piracy, principally directed at oil tankers and support vessels, has once again taken a sudden upswing, with incidents in the first four months of 2016 standing at 21% higher than the previous peak levels recorded in 2008. According to Control Risks’ Maritime Risk Analysis Division, the frequency of incidents stand 119% higher compared with the same period in 2015. Bayelsa state won the dubious honour of top location for piracy incidents in Nigeria with 56% of total incidents being recorded here between January and April 2016.

The upturn in serious incidents recently prompted the government to take steps and launch ‘Operation Tsare Teku’, the deployment of seven vessels from the Nigerian Navy to try and halt a crime wave which has seen a drop in the familiar theft and robbery from vessels moored in ports and at anchorages whilst the hijackings and kidnappings have risen sharply. Control Risks data shows an average of three kidnaps occurring per month in the first four months of 2016 compared to one kidnap per month in the same period in 2015.

The upsurge in activity has been linked by some to the declaration by the government that key figures, such as Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, were wanted by the Federal Government for suspected links with the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA). The NDA wants a sovereign state in the Niger Delta and, despite the fact it has officially existed for only a year or so, the group has been responsible for cutting Nigeria’s oil production, allegedly to its lowest level for two decades.

The situation in the region has always been complex with militant groups such as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and the Niger Delta Liberation Front (NDLF) claiming that the government had sold out to the oil producers causing massive ecological and environmental degradation and the diaspora of local peoples with the loss of their lands for little or no compensation.

This week government forces left Oporoza after a 6 day incursion fruitlessly searching for the alleged rebel leader, an action which left 2 soldiers and 6 civilians dead. Meanwhile NDA attacks on oil facilities continued with Shell and Chevron pipelines blown up. The group claims it has reduced oil production from 2 million barrels to 800,000 without any deaths resulting from its activities.

56% of the piracy attacks between January and April involved oilfield and tanker vessels whilst 25% occurred along internal waterways. Sebastian Villyn, Consultant in Maritime Risk Analysis at Control Risks, commented:

“The number of piracy incidents we’ve recorded occurring off the Nigerian coast in the first four months of this year is striking. This is a significant increase in activity since the peak of 2008. One of the drivers behind this growth is a change in tactics by criminal groups, focusing on what is perceived as more financially rewarding activity such as kidnap for ransom, instead of offshore robbery and low level port and anchorage crime.

“Equally, while tankers and oilfield support vessels are prime targets, all vessels are potentially at risk of attack and should be prepared when operating in this region. Maritime operators can help to reduce the risks to their crew through a number of measures. These include having access to up to date maritime intelligence on potential regional risks; security training for crew members on how to respond should they be faced with a kidnap for ransom situation and maritime security design expert support to help protect assets both onshore and offshore.”

Photo: Operation Tsare Teku is intended to cut piracy in the region