Maritime kidnapping and ransom on the increase in the Gulf of Guinea


The rates of maritime kidnaping, ransom and sabotage surged in the Gulf of Guinea in the first quarter of this year, according to new figures released by a maritime security company.

Somali piracy continues to be broadly contained with no confirmed attacks on large merchant vessels since January 2014, despite some commentators’ views that the pirates continue to ‘probe,’ according to Dryad Maritime, which this week released its piracy and maritime crime figures for the first three months of this year.
“However, Dryad’s latest figures show that the Gulf of Guinea continues to blight an otherwise cautiously optimistic analysis. From January to March, the region saw a surge of industrial sabotage ashore, and offshore, the activity of Pirate Action Groups (PAGs) operating with impunity in the face of overstretched Nigerian naval patrols has surged.
“14 commercial vessels were attacked off Rivers and Bayelsa States, with eight raids classified as ‘unsuccessful’ due to evasive manoeuvring or the crew’s evasion of capture by retreating to their ship’s citadel. In six of these incidents, 23 crew-members were kidnapped for ransom, which is proving a far more effective business plan for PAGs than hijacking product tankers for cargo (instances of which have fallen dramatically in the last 18 months), despite one unsuccessful attempt which was thwarted by Nigerian forces in February.
“Their captors have released the majority of kidnapped crew, but five mariners from support vessel MV Smit Lingga on 26 February, along now with the five abducted on 26 March from MT Sampatiki, remain in captivity. Sizeable ransom payments to the gangs responsible for these attacks have almost certainly been made to secure their release,” Dryad said.
“The Gulf of Guinea has not got off to a good start in 2016. Kidnap of crew for ransom off the Niger Delta continues with the criminals growing in confidence and operating with impunity as they take crew members from ships in the region from under the noses of naval forces who have neither the resources nor the capability to routinely deter the criminals’ actions outside of their territorial waters. More optimistically, however, the complex and logistically difficult product tanker hijack has unsuccessfully reared its head, thanks to the actions of the Nigerian Navy who managed to thwart such an operation in February,” said Ian Millen, Chief Operating Officer, Dryad Maritime.
“Attacks against oil pipelines and facilities ashore in Nigeria escalated in early 2016, particularly in the southwestern Niger Delta states. The government’s decision to extend amnesty payments to ‘repentant’ former militants in the Niger Delta, until December 2017 was somewhat motivated by the fear of a return to the violence seen prior to the implementation of the plan in 2010. President Buhari stated, whilst some militants were ready to put down their arms in an effort to build a better nation, others are sabotaging installations in the area, which is preventing major international companies from investing in the region for fear of suffering huge financial and logistical losses. To that end he said, militant Nigerians were sabotaging their own futures.
“As well as the attacks on oil infrastructure, militants have often been involved in skirmishes with security forces, and gangs of heavily armed criminals frequently terrorise local communities ashore in the states all along the Niger Delta. Attacks aimed at stealing cash from people onboard passenger vessels that transit the river networks continue on a very regular basis. This unfortunate pattern of crime is evident across much of the Niger Delta, where violent acts against civilians often escalates into kidnap, a pattern of life that has all too regularly been echoed in the Nigerian Economic Exclusion Zone in the first three months of 2016,” Dryad said.

According to Millen, “The first three months of 2016 have visibly demonstrated the dynamic nature of maritime crime and how effective action to combat it can turn the tide in favour of the good guys. There are some welcome causes for optimism in certain regions, notably the Indian Ocean where Somali piracy remains broadly contained, and in Southeast Asia where we have seen a remarkable turnaround in a little over six months to deliver our lowest first quarter figures in a decade. In other areas, such as the Gulf of Guinea, the picture is a less positive one, with kidnap of crew for ransom rampant off the Niger Delta. Wider concerns, from the effects of civil war and concerns over maritime terrorism to the impact of humanitarian crises such as maritime migration, continue to focus the minds of all with duty of care responsibilities for ships, crew and passengers, but these are manageable issues with proper planning and support.”

In South East Asia there has been a 50% drop in reported maritime crime compared to the same period in 2015. Similarly, the end of the first quarter of 2016 represents the longest period without attacks on merchant vessels underway or at anchor within the Singapore Strait since the first quarter of 2013, according to Dryad figures.

Its latest report also highlights the “diverse and complex threats that shipping companies and mariners face in other regions,” such as sea migration and weapons trafficking. For instance, in the Mediterranean, 170 000 migrants entered Europe in the first three months of this year, more than eight times the 20 700 recorded through the first quarter of 2015.

Regarding weapons trafficking, 3 500 automatic rifles, 300 RPGs and numerous machine guns en route to Somalia and Yemen were seized by Coalition Maritime Forces in the Arabian Sea. “Greek and Turkish authorities seized weapons from MV Trader and MV Joudi believed to be destined for Libya and are likely to represent only a fraction of the weapons being smuggled,” Dryad said.