Piracy on the rise in the Gulf of Guinea


Pirates have kidnapped 35 seafarers off Nigeria in the first half of 2018 as piracy continues to be problematic in the Gulf of Guinea, with Nigeria the focus of attacks.

According to the EOS Risk Group, Nigeria continues to be the world’s epicentre for piracy activity. From January through June 2018, EOS recorded 34 Nigerian pirate attacks on merchant and fishing vessels in the Gulf of Guinea. These attacks resulted in the kidnap of 35 seafarers for ransom and the hijacking of several vessels.
“Most concerning this year has been the resurgence of ‘petro-piracy’, involving the hijacking of tankers for oil theft” said Jake Longworth, senior intelligence analyst at EOS Risk. “The return of petro-piracy has been accompanied by an associated increase in the geographical reach of Nigerian pirate gangs, leading to attacks in the waters of Benin and Ghana.”

Many analysts cited rising oil prices for the return of petro-piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. Whilst this may be a significant factor, it should be recalled that oil prices had hit a 13 year low when pirates hijacked the MT Maximus off Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire in February 2016. It would therefore be hasty to see an exclusive correlation between the risk of tanker hijackings and oil prices. The reasons for this crime’s return are likely more complex, also being rooted in corruption, law enforcement activities (on land and at sea) and the ability of criminal networks to clandestinely move large quantities of stolen product back into legitimate markets, EOS said.

Following a decline in piracy activity off Benin since 2012, EOS recorded 7 pirate attacks in the waters of Nigeria’s western neighbour in the first half of 2018. The attacks involved several successful tanker hijackings, one of which resulted in the loss of 2,000 metric tonnes of product. Nigerian pirates also operated in Ghanaian waters in April, kidnapping five seafarers from two vessels.

Following the hijacking of the MT Barrett, pirates attacked three other tankers in Cotonou anchorage in February 2018. On 1st February, the Panama-flagged tanker, MT Marine Express, with 22 Indian nationals onboard and laden with 13,500 tons of gasoline, was hijacked by around 13 pirates from Cotonou anchorage, Benin. Managers Anglo-Eastern reported that the vessel was released 6 days later, its crew safe and cargo intact.

Despite hijackings grabbing the headlines, Longworth said that the main threat is still found off the restive Niger Delta, specifically on the approaches to ports and oil terminals in the vicinity of Port Harcourt. “95% of attacks we recorded in Nigerian waters occurred near Bonny Island, within 60 nautical miles of the shore. Pirates operating in these waters are focussed on the kidnap of seafarers for ransom.”

It was in this area that heavily armed Nigerian pirates kidnapped 11 seafarers from the Dutch general cargo vessel FWN Rapide in April. According to EOS, it is the highest number of hostages taken by a Nigerian pirate group in a single attack.

Steven Harwood, head of special risks at EOS, which covers kidnap for ransom response, said there are two main pirate gangs in Nigeria, both employing around 16 full time pirates. “One is located in the creeks near Yenagoa, Bayelsa State and the other around Abonnema, Rivers State. Both gangs are in communication and sometimes subcontract the physical hostage taking to other criminal groups”.

EOS warns that instability in the Niger Delta is likely to increase in the run up to Nigeria’s 2019 general elections, which could result in a spike in piracy activity. “Since the turn of the century, this pattern has been visible in Nigeria ahead of major election periods, evidence of the complex links between piracy and political conflict in the Niger Delta.”

To mitigate the risk, EOS recommends Masters implement Global Counter Piracy Guidance (GCPG) measures and where additional protection is required, they say shipping companies may require armed escort vessels and embarked guards where domestic law permits.

The full report from EOS can be found here.