Friday, March 22, 2019

Tankers and Offshore Support Vessels Attacked by Pirates

Death and Hostages Off African Coast
Shipping News Feature
NIGERIA – Unfortunately, pirates having been largely deterred in the waters off Somalia and in the Indian Ocean, the problem seems to be worsening once more in the Niger Delta and beyond with several serious attacks in the past few weeks on both tankers and offshore support vessels.

The criminals latest tactics seem to involve larger numbers of would be pirates than usual, generally it seems around 16 armed men operating from two fast skiffs. On Wednesday February 27 this was the situation when a tanker was attacked around 70 miles south of Brass in the Gulf of Guinea. The crew hid in the citadel and the master’s call for help resulted in assistance from a security vessel which deterred the pirates.

Just one day later about 30 miles SSW of Bonny Island gunfire was exchanged in an attempted hijack of an offshore support vessel (OSV) when the supporting patrol boat intervened. The OSV increased speed and took evasive manoeuvres until the two would be attacking vessels veered away. The OSV then made it to safety despite taking some small arms damage to the bridge.

On March 2 an almost identical attack to Wednesday’s took place 100 miles south of Lagos again involving another tanker, and again the non-essential crew stowed themselves in the citadel until the alarm call, routed via the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre, alerted the Nigerian Navy which despatched a patrol boat, which successfully scared off the would be hijackers.

Things then got considerably worse when pirates, again in two skiffs and fully armed, approached an offshore support vessel 30 miles south of Brass. The naval escort changed course to intercept and engaged one of the attackers in an exchange of gunfire. Meanwhile the other skiff closed on the port side of the OSV, cutting across her bows. The crew took shelter in the engine room and shut off all power.

Using an extendable ladder the pirates boarded the vessel and proceeded to steal crew belongings, vandalising everything as they went through the ship. They gained entry to the engine room kidnapping five of the crew before making their escape. In the gun battle with the other skiff one Nigerian Navy armed guard was reported killed. After the pirates left the remaining crew sailed the OSV to safe anchorage.

With the level of violence used in these attacks there have been complaints from shipping interests in the region that the Nigerian government’s policy to refuse to accommodate private security companies in its waters. Ships are not allowed to carry armed personnel as is the case elsewhere. The government line seems to view security as something completely within its gift and, whilst understandable, the policy is obviously not working particularly well.

Although private security companies have a vested interest by the very nature of their self-interest in supplying professional security personnel to travel aboard potential target vessels, their criticism of the current restrictions point to the success of such tactics off the coast of Somalia, admittedly in concert with a significant international navy presence.

These companies accuse the Nigerian system of being both expensive and unreliable, saying the standard of the Nigerian naval personnel used as security escorts aboard privately contracted local vessels does not match the professionally trained pool of labour from which they select their own. As ever with this part of the world the presence of oil rich territory, often seemingly seized from the indigenous population without compensation, has led to a breeding ground of poverty and resentment which has developed, as in Somalia, into a criminal industry.

Photo: A skiff holding eight would be pirates make an unsuccessful attack. Clearly seen are the hooked, extendable ladder used for boarding attempts, the large twin outboard engines and spare drums of fuel. All were apparently armed with assault rifles.