Piracy surges in the Gulf of Guinea with spate of deadly attacks

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Pirates in the Gulf of Guinea have kidnapped three seafarers and killed four security personnel in the latest incident in the region, which has seen a spike in piracy in the last month.

The Nigerian dredger Ambika was reportedly boarded by armed pirates on 2 January near the Forcadas terminal in Nigeria, with four Nigerian security personnel killed and two injured in the ensuring firefight. Three crew were kidnapped (two Russians and one Indian national) while five remained on the vessel.

A week earlier, on 28 December, pirates in a speedboat approached the LNG tanker Lokoja off Bonny, Nigeria, and opened fire. The vessel managed to evade the pirates and met up with naval vessels.

Two days later, three vessels were attacked. The Vinalines Mighty was, according to Dryad Global, boarded by pirates but the crew were unharmed. The chemical tanker Happy Lady off Cameroon was boarded and eight crew taken hostage, with one wounded. The Drogba was attacked in the Bight of Bonny in the Gulf of Guinea but the pirates encountered an armed team of Nigerian Navy personnel and fled.

Pirates also attacked the tanker Istanbul on the 24th and earlier in the month, on 3 December, 19 crew were kidnapped from the large crude carrier Nave Constellation while seven were left on board.

Another two crew were kidnapped off the container vessel Renovation at the Douala anchorage on 22 December.

Meanwhile, pirates who kidnapped seven crew from the Pacific Warden off the coast of Equatorial Guinea on 20 November released them on 26 December.

It is suspected that pirates off Nigeria are operating from a mother vessel, the chemical tanker Determination 2, with experts speculating that at least two pirate action groups (PAGs) in the Gulf of Guinea are responsible for the recent spate of attacks, according to Dryad Global.

“These criminal actors are using the EEZ [exclusive economic zone] as a cover from Nigerian forces and the international naval forces,” said Dryad Global chief executive Phil Diacon.

In spite of a drop in piracy in most areas, the Gulf of Guinea remains the most dangerous for seafarers, with nine vessels attacked in 2019 and 89 crew members kidnapped. Ransoms between $18 000 and $500 000 per person are often paid for their release. Approximately 20 Indian crew continue to be held after their tanker Duke was attacked off Benin on 15 December in a further sign that pirates are focussing on crew ransom rather than stealing ship cargoes.

The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said that in the first nine months of 2019, the Gulf of Guinea accounted for 82% of crew kidnappings globally and 86% of crew taken hostage.

According to Dryad Global, 57 crew were kidnapped in the Gulf of Guinea in December 2019 alone. “The rapid increase in incidents is believed to be perpetuated in part by a confluence of factors including favourable conditions and reinforced successes. Lengthy turn around times at terminal locations present considerable security challenges for vessels seeking to reduce exposure to the risk of incident. In addition to this, a lack of coherent and coordinated security response means that pirates are able to operate between national maritime boundaries without restriction,” Dryad said.

Of the most recent attacks, the IMB said it is “concerned at the unprecedented level of crew kidnapped in the Gulf of Guinea and is advising all ships to be extra vigilant when transiting through the Region.”

The IMB said these incidents show a serious escalation in seafarers being targeted for kidnap for ransom in the Gulf of Guinea. “The fact they are occurring well outside territorial waters makes it all the more important that ships underway maintain a heightened level of vigilance, until they are well clear of these waters.”

“Our main concern is for the safety of the crew and the quick and safe return of the kidnapped seafarers,” said IMB Assistant Director Cyrus Mody.



He added, “IMB calls for more support from coastal countries in the Region, to provide a meaningful response, including, investigating the gangs who carry out the kidnappings and ultimately holding them to account under law.”