Piracy dropping but kidnapping increasing in Gulf of Guinea


The number of piracy incidents in the Gulf of Guinea in 2014 dropped by 18% compared to the year before but 2014 saw a major increase in the number of attacks that resulted in crew kidnapping, according to a new report.

Private maritime company Dryad Maritime said that fourteen vessels had crew taken captive last year, compared to eight vessels having crew kidnapped the previous year. Just two of last year’s attacks occurred inside Nigeria’s 12 nautical mile (nm) territorial waters, with the remainder further offshore where protection from security vessels is less available. A further 14 unsuccessful attacks took place within the Nigerian exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
“Analysis suggests that the vast majority of these criminal gang attacks were aimed at the kidnap of crew, especially given the areas and weaponry involved. Effective defensive measures employed by crews and security teams meant that these 14 attacks were aborted and were not added to the already higher statistics for kidnap or cargo theft,” Dryad said.

The company predicts that kidnapping at sea will increase in 2015. “Victims will likely be released unharmed as long as shipping companies and owners negotiate with the criminal gangs and pay the ransoms demanded. Whilst it is understandable that such ransoms are paid to secure the safe return of crew, such payments will encourage criminals to persist with this lucrative form of maritime crime.”

Regarding hijacking in the Gulf of Guinea in 2014, Dryad noted that three tankers were hijacked for their cargo of fuel oil, down from five incidents in 2013 and seven in 2012. Another five tankers were unsuccessfully attacked by heavily armed gangs during the year. “The smaller number of successful attacks was, however, overshadowed by a record demonstration of criminal gang reach when Niger Delta-based pirates hijacked the Liberian flagged tanker, MT Kerala, from its Angolan anchorage – some 900nm from Nigerian waters.”

According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), 41 incidents were reported in West Africa last year, although many further attacks went unreported. “Five vessels were hijacked, including three tankers, one supply and a fishing vessel. Hijackings of product tankers appeared to subside in the last quarter of 2014, with the last reported case at the end of July 2014,” according to the IMB.
“Of the 18 attacks off Nigeria, 14 involved tankers and vessels associated with the oil industry. Most were product tankers, hijacked to steal and tranship their cargo into smaller tankers. Earlier in the year the waters South and West of the Brass Terminal saw a particularly concerning spate of attacks.
“In and around Ghanaian waters, in June and July three vessels were hijacked, one of which was a fishing vessel intended to be used as a platform to hijack tankers off Nigeria. Seven vessels were also boarded while anchored at Pointe-Noire, Republic of the Congo, with ship and crew properties targeted by the robbers,” the IMB said.

Dryad predicts that cargo theft will be steady in the Gulf of Guinea, especially Nigeria, this year. “The criminal reach demonstrated with the hijack of MT Kerala, the number of successful and attempted attacks in 2014 and the lack of any evidence that such gangs have been neutralised, suggests that further attempts at cargo theft will take place in 2015 across the region.”

The situation is quite different off the Horn of Africa, with only two confirmed attacks on merchant vessels transiting the High Risk Area in the Indian Ocean in 2014: MV Nave Atropos was attacked on 17 January south of Salalah and MV Andreawas fired upon from two skiffs 10nm off the Somali coast in February. During the attack on MV Nave Atropos, the pirates used a previously hijacked dhow (MSV Shane Hind) as a mother ship. Despite almost daily reports of suspicious vessels (dhows, fishing boats and skiffs) these three attacks remain the only ones attributed to Somali pirates.
“Also of significance is the lack of disruption of potential pirate action groups (PAGs) in 2014. During 2013 over a dozen PAGs were detained and destroyed by coalition naval forces but, with the exception of MSC Shane Hind, no other PAG was detected in 2014. This is the lowest level of pirate activity in more than 15 years,” Dryad said.

The decline in Somali piracy is attributed to the large numbers of coalition forces, best management practices by ships and private armed security guards. However, Dryad notes that the threat of Somali pirates has not been eradicated but contained. “The conditions ashore in Somalia, which contributed to the escalation of piracy in the first place, have changed little,” Dryad said, noting that the pirates’ hijacking formula is out of date.
“In 2015, it is likely that this broad containment of Somali pirates will continue, provided that the measures that have contributed to this favourable outcome continue to be in place. Remove any one of the ingredients that have resulted in the right medicine to combat the pirate threat – coalition forces, armed guards, BMP compliance – and we could see a return to higher levels of pirate action,” Dryad said.

Piracy in Southeast Asia, on the other hand, saw a major increase in 2014, with 21% more reported maritime crime compared to 2013. Dryad’s figures show a total of 214 incidents compared to 177 in the previous year, most of which occurred within 150 nautical miles of Singapore.

Dryad predicts that piracy will continue unabated in Southeast Asia. “A very real concern is the fact that criminal gangs are becoming more violent and, without arrest and prosecution, they will continue to operate with impunity, resulting in further injuries and possibly more deaths to mariners,” Dryad said.

Regarding the rest of the world, “figures for maritime crime in areas outside of those already addressed are small by comparison, with only 16 incidents on Dryad’s records for 2014…ranging from robbery alongside in South America to attacks on yachts in the Caribbean and even the hijack of a sailing vessel in the Mediterranean.”

According to the IMB, attacks against small tankers off South East Asia’s coasts caused a rise in global ship hijackings, up to 21 in 2014 from 12 in 2013, despite piracy at sea falling to its lowest level in eight years. Pirates took 442 crewmembers hostage, compared with 304 in 2013.

IMB’s annual piracy report shows 245 incidents were recorded worldwide in 2014 – a 44% drop since Somali piracy peaked in 2011. Somali pirates were responsible for 11 attacks, all of which were thwarted. Worldwide, 21 vessels were hijacked last year, 183 were boarded, and 13 fired upon. Pirates killed four crewmembers, injured 13 and kidnapped nine from their vessels.

Apart from regular piracy, Dryad pointed out that there were various other types of crime affecting the maritime environment such as criminally sponsored mass migration across the Mediterranean, trade restrictions imposed in Crimea and terrorism activity in the vicinity of shipping lanes and the impact of civil war in Libya. “The targeting of MT Araevo by Libyan Air Force jets, which resulted in the deaths of two crew members off Derna on 4 January this year, clearly illustrates the need for local awareness and proper risk mitigation in all areas of operation.”