The ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) is asking ships to be extra vigilant when transiting West Africa as piracy in the region becomes a growing concern.
IMB’s Live Piracy Map shows that since the beginning of the year, one vessel, MT Kerala, has been hijacked and six were boarded in West Africa. There was also one attempted attack.
The hijacking of the Liberian-flag product tanker in January by Nigerian pirates has sparked fears these gangs are venturing further south.
In that incident, the pirates hijacked the MT Kerala off the coast of Luanda in Angolan waters.
The vessel was released by the pirates eight days later after the cargo was illegally transferred in a ship-to-ship operation along the West African coast.
Whilst the incident shows the willingness of these gangs to venture further to commit their crime, it also raises concern due to the violence associated with such hijackings. One crew member was injured while the vessel was under the custody of the pirates.
The IMB has warned in its annual piracy report of the dangers to ships transiting West African waters particularly around Nigeria, Benin and Togo, and urge continued vigilance as the threat remains real, as highlighted by the MT Kerala hijacking.
It further points to the fact that because pirates have never attacked so far south, it is likely that vessels in the area are not aware of the danger.
Last year the number of Nigerian piracy attacks grew and it currently stands at its highest level since 2008. Nigerian pirates accounted for 31 of the 51 attacks reported in the region in 2013, and West Africa as a whole made up 19% of attacks worldwide last year.
The common tactics employed by these gangs operating in the area is to hijack a vessel for its cargo, normally gas oil. However in the process, crew members are also injured and in some instances kidnapped, and vessels fired upon.
According to a recent report by the United Nations titled Maritime Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea a lot of the piracy that affects West Africa is a product of the criminal activity associated with the region’s oil sector.
“A large share of the recent piracy attacks targeted vessels carrying petroleum products. These vessels are attacked because there is a booming black market for fuel in West Africa. Without this ready market, there would be little point in attacking these vessels,” the report said.
These attacks are damaging Nigeria’s lucrative oil industry as analysts point out that the hijackings of tankers for oil cargoes could increase the risk of doing business in the country.
One Nigerian Navy official recently said the country was losing N250 million ($1.5 billion) a month to maritime crime, which includes piracy, smuggling and bunkering fraud.
As a matter of course the IMB is warning ships to be extra cautious and to take necessary precautionary measures when transiting West African waters.
It urges ship owners and managers who lose contact with their vessels to report it to the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre as soon as possible, so that investigations can be carried out and if appropriate suitable warnings issued to other vessels in the same area to reduce the risk of hijacks.
The IMB also operates a 24 hour maritime security hotline to report any information relating to maritime crime and maritime security.
ICC, March 12, 2014