Maritime crime up in the Gulf of Guinea


There was a significant increase in maritime crime in the Gulf of Guinea during 2016 compared to 2015, according to a new report, which notes there were 49 attacks at sea last year compared to 20 the year before.

In a review of maritime crime in 2016, Dryad Maritime noted that in the Gulf of Guinea the number of crew kidnapped (51) is also significantly greater than the 31 abducted for ransom the previous year.
“While the number of mariners involved is small, compared to those held hostage at the height of the Somali pirate attacks in the Indian Ocean, it is nevertheless a significant increase,” Dryad said.

The gangs behind the attacks and kidnapping attempts in open ocean off Nigeria during 2016 mostly operated from single large speedboats, self-sufficient in fuel, without the need of support from slower ‘mother vessels’, a change from tactics used in previous years. This enabled them to move quickly at ranges, at times, in excess of 100 nautical miles from shore. Of the 49 attacks on ships at sea in West Africa last year, 47 occurred within the Nigerian exclusive economic zone (EEZ), with just two other vessels targeted at sea outside of Nigerian waters, Dryad said.

Reefer MV Saronic Breeze was hijacked and looted on 27 November shortly after leaving Cotonou. Prior to that incident the only attack at sea west of Lagos during 2016 was when MT Maximus was hijacked for her cargo of oil (ultimately unsuccessfully) 70 nautical miles south of Abidjan, Ivory Coast in February. This was the only reported instance of attempted cargo theft from a tanker at sea in the Gulf of Guinea throughout the year. The trend in hijacking tankers for their cargo of oil has fallen sharply during the last 18 months. Fast moving heavily armed gangs see that hit and run attacks on high value crew, particularly in open ocean away from areas commonly patrolled by maritime security forces, stands a greater chance of success than that of taking control of tankers for several days.

Dryad has warned throughout 2016 that the criminal gangs that have looted vessels in Conakry’s anchorages in Guinea are likely to return. It is clear that, unlike local criminals who operate in port and anchorage areas in the Gulf of Guinea itself, the men who have conducted robberies in Conakry, Guinea are far more violent towards crew. Dryad said the risk to vessels in port and anchorage areas throughout West Africa, from local petty thieves attempting overnight boardings in order to steal stores, continues.

Elsewhere, Dryad said the Somali pirate threat in the Indian Ocean remains broadly contained with the main focus being the ongoing civil war in Yemen and the implications to shipping in the region. As a result of the reduced risk, NATO has ended its counter-piracy mission and a number of nations are reducing or removing their naval forces in the region. The European Union Naval Force (EUNAVFOR) attributed only a single incident to Somali pirates, although neither NATO nor UKMTO recognised the incident as an attack. While the Yemen conflict has raised concern in the Bab al Mandeb, maritime attacks in the strait have been mainly on ships involved in the conflict.

While the Mediterranean remains in the headlines for continued concern over the maritime migration from North Africa, the end of Daesh/IS territorial control in Sirte is a small sign of improvement in a country that remains wracked by civil war. In the Indian Ocean, piracy has now taken a backseat compared to the risk to shipping from the ongoing conflict in Yemen that has seen ships involved in the conflict attacked and the first alleged waterborne IED attack of a commercial ship in over five years.

Southeast Asia saw a 55% reduction in maritime crime when compared to 2015, a trend that continued from the final quarter of 2015 that saw a more proactive and effective approach to law enforcement, in particular from the Indonesian and Malaysian authorities. Concern in the region in the last quarter focused on the Sulu Sea and the attacks by Abu Sayyaf. While these have been mostly on fishing vessels and coal barges, a couple of larger merchant vessels have been attacked and their crew kidnapped.

The Mediterranean has continued as an area of interest, due to the ongoing civil war in Libya. However, instability ashore has not resulted in many incidents at sea. Despite this, the continued flow of those fleeing across the sea to Europe, has meant that the ongoing crises and instability across North Africa and the Middle East have had an impact upon maritime activities.

Finally, looking at the rest of the world, 2016 saw a further increase in levels of maritime crime from the 2015 figures. This may not point towards a real terms increase though, as the quality of reporting continues to increase in multiple regions.