Pirate attacks on the rise off West African coast


The number of pirate attacks off the West coast of Africa has risen dramatically this year, with two occurring last week, prompting regional and foreign governments to come up with anti-piracy strategies.

According to the Inter Press Service News Agency (IPS), there have been more than 30 attacks in the Gulf of Guinea this year, compared to just one last year.

According to the International Maritime Bureau, the most recent attack off the West African coast occurred yesterday when around a dozen armed robbers boarded a cargo vessel anchored in Guinea. The robbers assaulted the crew during the 45 minute incident and made off with ship and crew property and cash.

The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported that on Saturday, two small boats approached a chemical tanker anchored at Lome, Togo. The duty officer told the boats to move away, was ignored. Another two boats approached the tanker and secured themselves to the tanker’s rudder.

The ship’s master informed the Togolese Navy, which detained the occupants of all four boats.

Just two days prior, suspicious boats approached a chemical tanker anchored in Togo. The vessel’s duty officer noticed a fishing boat approaching and requested it move away. The request was ignored and the boat was joined by two more. The ship’s master informed the Togo Navy, which responded to the call and detain two boats while the third escaped.

On September 14, pirates hijacked the Cyprus-flagged Mattheos 1 tanker and its 23 crew sailing in the Gulf of Guinea, but released it on Saturday.

The Mattheos was taken by pirates during a ship-to-ship transfer of petroleum products about 62 nautical miles southwest of Benin’s port of Cotonou and taken to an unknown location. Pirates also attacked the Nowegian-flagged Northern Bell, which was doing the cargo transfer with the Mattheos 1, but that the crew had locked themselves in the engine room and the pirates eventually left.

The incident was just one of many attacks on ships in the Gulf of Guinea that experts say is threatening an emerging trade hub and growing source of oil, metals and agricultural products to world markets.

IMB manager Cyrus Mody told Reuters that among the attacks off West Africa, there have been eight hijackings off of Benin this year, but that all of the crews have since been released, usually within 72 hours.

Pirates in the Gulf of Guinea, which stretches from the Guinea to Angola, tend to raid ships for cash and cargo rather than hijacking the crews for ransom like their counterparts off the coast of Somalia.

Piracy has already led maritime insurers in London to put Benin on a list of high-risk zones for shipping. Maritime insurers represented by the Lloyd’s Market Association are demanding higher fees to cover ships which pass through the region, IPS reports.

Recent attacks have also prompted countries in the region to request foreign assistance. France sent the patrol frigate Germinal to the region, where it patrolled the coasts of Benin, Togo and Ghana in an effort to combat piracy and train foreign naval personnel.
“We have hosted these sailors, and they’ve taken part in all the security exercises and patrols that we have carried out to prevent acts of piracy. And they have helped us with their intimate knowledge of the area of operations,” S├ębastien Chatelin, captain of the French vessel, told IPS.

Meanwhile, the US Navy’s HSV Swift is deployed to the Gulf of Guinea as part of its Africa Partnership Station project.
“The APS programme will allow us to work together to face the problems which affect our coastal waters,” Sam Nkruma, a Ghanaian naval officer, told IPS.

The US envoy to Benin told Reuters last month that Benin was seeking to buy aircraft to shore up its coastal surveillance as pirate attacks spike.