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2018 Apr 11

West Africa leads global piracy surge

The International Chamber of Commerce’s (ICC’s) International Maritime Bureau (IMB) has warned of a surge in pirate activity around West Africa, with 66 incidents reported in the first quarter of this year (1Q18).

This is the highest level in at least five years, compared to 43 incidents of piracy and armed robbery in 1Q17 and 37 incidents in 1Q16.

During the quarter, 100 crew were taken hostage and 14 kidnapped from their vessels. Of the 66 incidents, 43 were actual attacks, of which 39 were boarded and four hijacked. Of the 23 attempted attacks on vessels during the quarter, 11 vessels were fired upon.

There was a marked increase in the number of attacks on bulk carriers and chemical/product tankers during the quarter, with 21 and 20 incidents, respectively, versus 9 and 12 in 2017. Seven crude tankers and five container vessels also fell victim to pirate activity in the same period. 

The Gulf of Guinea stood out as a hot spot for piracy activity, accounting for 29 of the 66 incidents.

Unlike 2017, where no vessel hijackings occurred in the region, all four incidents occurred in the Gulf of Guinea. Likewise all but one of the 114 crew were taken hostage or kidnapped there during 1Q18.

Two product tankers were hijacked from Cotonou anchorage in mid-January and early February. This prompted the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre to issue a warning to ships. Towards the end of March, two fishing vessels were hijacked 30 nm off Nigeria and 27 nm off Ghana.

Nigeria alone accounted for 22 incidents during 1Q18, the highest number reported for a single country. Eight of the 11 vessels fired upon occurred off Nigeria, including reports from a 300,000 dwt VLCC tanker, more than 40 nm off Brass.

“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 crew. The prompt detection and response to any unauthorised movements of an anchored vessel could help in the effective response to such attacks,” an IMB spokesperson said.

Despite that, IMB highlighted that all vessel types sailing through the Gulf of Guinea are vulnerable to attacks. Besides product tankers, crews have been taken hostage and kidnapped from fishing and refrigerated cargo vessels, it said.

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.

IMB is working with national and regional authorities in the Gulf of Guinea to support ships and co-ordinate counter piracy action, while the authorities from Benin, Nigeria, and Togo have sent out boats in response to several incidents.

Although the data takes the heat off the east coast of Africa, IMB has advised vessels to remain vigilant.

A single incident was reported in Somalia during the quarter, where a product tanker was fired upon and chased by two skiffs about 160 nm southeast of Hobyo. There was also a separate incident of a 160,000 dwt tanker being fired upon while transiting within the Maritime Security Transit Corridor along the Gulf of Aden.

“The distance from land, sighting of ladders, and firing upon ships continues to illustrate that the Somali pirates retain the capability and intent to attack merchant shipping in the wider Indian Ocean.”

Meanwhile, Indonesia came in a distant second, recording nine low-level attacks against anchored vessels. This comprised two attempted attacks, while vessels were boarded in seven actual attacks. Five of the attacks took place at Muara Berau anchorage in Samarinda, while waiting to load coal cargoes.

All other countries reported five or fewer incidents each.

Source: fairplay.ihs.com; Simin Ngai

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