Petro-Piracy Returns to Gulf of Guinea

PiracyIllustration; Image Courtesy: US Navy

Nigerian pirates have taken 35 seafarers from vessels in the Gulf of Guinea from January through June 2018, according to a report from security services company EOS Risk Group.

The number of sailors removed from vessels and held for ransom was the same as witnessed during the first half of 2017.

However, petro-piracy, which had been dormant for the past two years as only two attempted hijack for oil theft cases were reported, seems to have returned to the area with the hijacking of the UK-flagged MT Barrett in Cotonou Anchorage, Benin on January 10, 2018.

The attack, which played out over seven days, saw the pirates siphon off around 2,000 MT of gasoline from the tanker via a ship-to-ship transfer (STS) within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Ghana.

Following the hijacking of the MT Barrett, pirates attacked three other tankers in Cotonou anchorage in February 2018.

“Petro-piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is unlikely to reach the levels witnessed in 2011-2013. Over the years, affected littoral nations and the shipping community have learnt some lessons, whilst pirates are using old tricks,” EOS Risk Group noted in the report.

“That said, continued instability in the Niger Delta, endemic regional corruption issues, opaque emerging oil industries and weak maritime security suggests the threat will linger.”

On the other hand, kidnap for ransom, due to its favourable risk reward ratio and the relative ease with which it can be conducted, “is expected to continue to be Nigerian PAGs’ primary modus operandi,” EOS Risk Group said.

While all marine kidnap for ransom attacks were conducted within the Nigerian EEZ in 2017, in 2018 one case originated in Cameroonian waters and two in Ghanaian waters. This year, there have also been three cases in which shipping companies have paid a ransom for the release of a hijacked vessel.

Regarding risk mitigation, EOS Risk Group informed that escort vessels staffed by Nigerian Navy personnel are the most effective and compliant method of dealing with the threat of piracy within Nigerian waters.

All vessel types trading off the Niger Delta – especially the waters between Brass and Bonny out to 100nm – “should strongly consider contracting armed escort support due to the severe kidnap for ransom risk.”

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