Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Piracy Update as West Africa Retains the Unwanted Crown as Most Dangerous to Merchant Shipping

Gulf of Guinea Now the Most Dangerous Place at Sea
Shipping News Feature
WORLDWIDE – Following our story last month detailing both the current state of piracy against merchant ships off the coasts of Nigeria, Guinea, Togo, Benin and Cameroon, and some of the reasons that the Gulf of Guinea has now become the world's hotspot for the hijacking of vessels and the kidnap of their crews, comes the latest report from the Piracy Reporting Centre at the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).

Although overall attacks around the globe dropped from 107 in the first six months of 2018 to 78 for the same period this year, the situation in the seas around the West African coast remains extremely dangerous for ships of all types plying their trade. The Gulf of Guinea has leapt into the unenviable lead position which the Somali coast formerly occupied until concerted, and ongoing, naval action made the activities of the pirate community in the Indian Ocean untenable.

The IMB reports that, for the period in question, 73% of all kidnappings at sea, and 92% of hostage takings, took place in the Gulf. This meant 27 crew taken hostage as against 25 in the first half of last year. Only nine vessels came under fire worldwide, and eight of these were in the Gulf of Guinea, attacks on average 65 nautical miles from the coast, and therefore classed as piracy.

Despite the fact the first six months saw two chemical tankers hijacked, plus a tug used in a further attack, the response from the Nigerian navy, which now tends to immediately send patrol boats to the incidents, as in the case of the 76,000 dwt heavy transport vessel Blue Marlin which saw all crew safe, has been welcomed. The abovementioned tug, seized 40 or so miles off Luba, Equatorial Guinea, was used in that attack but with the crew safely ensconced in the citadel the combined response from that country and the Spanish Navy ensured all ended well.

The difficulty in attacking larger ships, which are often well prepared for such instances, has caused a rash of attacks against smaller craft, such as offshore support vessels (OSVs) with kidnapping and ransom in mind, as opposed to the typical theft of cargo type we have seen previously in Nigerian waters. The IMB emphasised that early detection is the key to reduce risk, with immediate reporting and, if necessary, retreat to a safe citadel to await rescue.

Elsewhere in the world nine of ten crew captured from two fishing boats off eastern Sabah, Malaysia in June are reported as released, whilst Indonesia reported eleven incidents in the second quarter of 2019, the lowest figure for similar periods in a decade.

South America had an unwelcome first when a vessel was fired upon in the Guayas River after departing from Guayaquil, Ecuador’s second largest city. This is the only time an incident involving the firing of weapons has been reported to the IMB PRC in Ecuador. The continent still favours the act of armed robbery over piracy, with incidents of ships at anchor being attacked reported in Callao in Peru, Jose Terminal in Venezuela and Macapa in Brazil.

In an horrific crime on 2 May 2019, armed robbers boarded a yacht in San Ignacio de Tupile, Panama, shooting and killing a family member and injuring another. The IMB PRC liaised with the victims and authorities whilst the surviving family members including two children were rescued by Panamanian Marine Police.

You can register to receive the IMB piracy report in full HERE.