On 8 February 2017, the LPG tanker GAZ PROVIDENCE was attacked and boarded by pirates in the Bight of Bonny, 40 nautical miles south of Bonny Island, Nigeria. The vessel was approached by a motor skiff with armed men on board. The crew on board the vessel managed to send out a distress signal to the local authorities and the Nigerian Navy. The Nigerian navy dispatched the navy ship Okpabana to the scene, rescuing the vessel and all 21 crewmembers on board. All crewmembers have been reported safe. The pirates managed to flee the scene after stealing some valuables and cash. They did not cause sufficient damage to the vessel. The vessel headed to Port Harcourt, where it will be inspected before returning to service. An investigation of the incident is currently underway.
This incident comes after pirates kidnapped seven Russians and one Ukrainian crewmember after they attacked the cargo vessel BBC CARIBBEAN off the coast of Nigeria. The attack was confirmed late on 7 February 2017.
MS Risk continues to warn that the Gulf of Guinea region, and particularly waters off Nigeria, remain dangerous, and the threat of attack, hijacking and kidnapping remains very high.
Any vessels transiting this region are advised to remain on high alert at all times. Masters should increase watches and identify national assets in the region, such as warships or coast guard vessels that could be contacted in the event of an emergency. Crewmembers should remain vigilant and on the look out for any suspect vessels and actions should be taken in order to prepare all crewmembers in the event of an attack.
After several weeks of relative calm in this region, these two attacks are likely to encourage other pirate incidents.
On 27 November 2016, reports emerged of suspicious activity involving MV Saronic Breeze in position 05°09’00”N – 002°37’22”E (Cotonou outer roads).
The vessel had been travelling south however it changed direction to head back into port and now has been drifting in position 04°41’50”N – 003°30’15”E since 282000ZNOV16. The owner of the vessel received the SSAS and tried to contact the vessel however no response was received. Maritime officials strongly believe that the vessel is under piracy attack and that pirates have taken control of it. Port control has been informed about the incident however no information has been received.
According to a new UK Chamber of Shipping study, published 10 July 2014, a lack of security off the coast of Nigeria not only threatens seafarers transiting the region, but it will also have an impact on the United Kingdom’s economy.
The new report indicates that maritime crime in the Gulf of Guinea region exposes almost all of the UK’s £6.3 billion (US $10.7 billion) annual trade with the region, including 12% of oil that is imported into the UK. By 2050, the region is set to hold 25% of the world’s oil production, however the lack of security in the Gulf of Guinea is now affecting the UK’s economy as its economic interests are being placed at risk.
While over the past year, the rise in piracy attacks in the Gulf of Guinea has effectively transformed the region into the new global piracy hotspot, overtaking piracy off the coast of Somalia; the issue of maritime crime in the Gulf of Guinea is not new. This is echoed by Guy Platten, chief executive of the UK Chamber of Shipping, who states that while “most people are aware of pirate activity off Somalia…lawlessness in the Gulf of Guinea is a major threat to our seafarers, the UK’s energy and trade security, and to the economic development in the region,” adding “Nigeria and other states in the region have known for 30 years that piracy was a problem, but too little has been done.”
One issue is the continued under reporting of incidents in the region, which has resulted in the lack of comprehensive data, in turn making it difficult to provide accurate statistics concerning maritime crime in the region. While the study indicates that vessels transiting the region are attacked at least once per week, it does note that a significant proportion, estimated to be up to two-thirds of attacks, go un-reported. Of those reported attacks, 60% occurred within Nigerian territorial waters. Such under reporting has been attributed to two reasons: bureaucracy and a lack of suitable reporting organization.
What Does This Mean For the UK Economy?
Oil and Gas
Although Nigeria is the primary source of energy from the Gulf of Guinea, with proven reserves of 37.2 billion barrels (11th in the world) and a production of 2.5 million barrels per day (12th in the world), all of the country’s oil is exported by sea despite the prevalence of maritime crime.
This insecurity effectively places the UK energy security at risk during transportation through insecure shipping routes, such as those in the Gulf of Guinea region.
Gas exports from the region are not yet as proportionally significant. In 2012, 6% of the EU’s LNG came from the Gulf of Guinea. Maritime security is vital to this source of energy as deepwater fields in the Gulf of Guinea account for 800,000 bpd in Nigeria, and are forecast to provide 60% of total Nigerian production. While there is a plan for an LNG pipeline, which will transport gas across the Sahara, currently all of these energy exports are conducted by sea.
Non Oil Trade
Nigeria is the second largest market for goods in Africa while the region as a whole contributes to the food security of the UK, including bananas, cocoa and palm oil; as well as other produce, including rubber and timber.
The UK also has a direct trade in minerals with West Africa and holds investments in third party trade. These minerals are transported by sea and therefore are affected by the poor maritime governance in the Gulf of Guinea.
Combatting the threat of piracy and maritime crime in the Gulf of Guinea will not be simple as vessels transiting the region use routes that pass through multiple jurisdictions. Consequently any solution to this issue will have to be multilateral.
Although some UK policies are already focusing on reducing maritime crime in the region, including how to protect seafarers and how to address the maritime manifestation of oil theft, the study notes that any UK activity aimed at enhancing security in the region should be proportional to its risks and can only be based on soft power.
While the UK Chamber of Shipping report focuses primarily on maritime security in waters off Nigeria, the study provides evidence to support both continued and additional UK involvement, adding that solutions must be multilateral and cannot focus on one sole country.
The study concludes by indicating that Ghana is an excellent example of how maritime security can be successfully provided in the region. According to the study, “investors in Ghana provide directly to maritime security projects, and this public/private partnership has been seen to be another example of success.” The report adds that Ghana “…demonstrates that the GoG is not an ungovernable region, but that third-party supported, regionally hosted maritime security has significant commercial and social benefits.”
According to the latest Oceans Beyond Piracy report, the cost of Somali piracy to the global economy fell by almost half last year as attacks in the region continued to decline. However piracy in West Africa continued to rise.
According to the Oceans Beyond Piracy report, attacks carried out by Somali pirates in 2013 continued to decline, with only 23 vessels being attacked throughout the past year. While no large vessels transiting the region were successfully attacked or hijacked, the threat of piracy to regional traffic remains high.
Armed security teams aboard vessels in the Indian Ocean were relatively prevalent on those vessels reporting suspect activity: 100 vessels out of 145 reporting suspicious approaches had security teams aboard, as did 10 out of the 19 vessels that reported attacks. Furthermore, twenty-seven of the 100 vessels with security teams aboard during suspicious approaches reported firing warning shots in a bid to deter suspicious approaches, while eight out of ten vessels with security teams on board during attacks reported exchanging fire with pirates.
The latest annual security report put the total cost of Somali piracy at US $3.2 billion (£1.88 billion) in 2013. Over the past year, there were still at least fifty hostages being held captive in Somalia.
At the height of Somali pirate attacks in 2011, up to a dozen or more merchant vessels were being held captive at any one time as pirate gangs awaited to receive multimillion-dollar ransom payments. While Somali piracy was by far the largest single threat to international shipping in recent years, the increase of international navies in the region, coupled with embarked security teams on board vessels transiting the High Risk Area (HRA), has resulted in a sharp decline in pirate attacks, with the last successful hijacking of a merchant vessel occurring two years ago. However this decline is easily reversible. Furthermore, this decline in Somali piracy has effectively paved the way for a new region to take over the status of being a piracy hot spot.
West African Piracy
For the second year in a row, the number of piracy attacks in West Africa was greater than that in the Indian Ocean. According to statistics provided by Oceans Beyond Piracy, an estimated 100 attacks occurred off West Africa in 2013. This included 42 hostage-taking attacks and 58 robbery attempts.
In the past year, the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa has developed into the new piracy threat to international shipping, however pirate and criminal gangs operating in the region greatly differ from those groups operating in the Gulf of Aden. Reports of piracy attacks, kidnappings and hijackings in the Gulf of Guinea have demonstrated that piracy in the region are more violent then those seen in waters off Somalia. According to the new Oceans Beyond Piracy, analysts have observed “…a high degree of violence in this region,” adding that “the constantly evolving tactics of West African piracy make it extremely difficult to isolate it from other elements of organized crime.”
While providing accurate statistics for the Gulf of Guinea continues to be difficult, mainly due to incomplete reporting, it is evident that there was a rise in the number of seafarers who were kidnapped in the region last year.
Two American sailors, who were kidnapped off a vessel in the Gulf of Guinea last month, have been freed. A spokeswoman for the US State Department has confirmed that the two men, a captain and chief engineer of the US-flagged C-Retriever oil supply ship, were freed over the weekend, adding that the men are safe and healthy and currently on their way home. Although Jen Psaki provided no further details pertaining to the release of the two hostages, reports have indicated that the two men were freed after negotiations successfully yielded a ransom payment. Details of the ransom payment are unknown.
The C-Retriever was stormed by armed men on 23 October near the coastal town of Brass, in Nigeria’s Bayelsa State. The captain and chief engineer, whose names have been withheld for privacy reasons, were then kidnapped by the attackers. Last week, the 222-foot oil supply ship, which is owned by a Louisiana firm, was tracked near the outskirts of the Port of Onne, where it sat in the water apparently abandoned. So far, no group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Meanwhile the US State Department has designated Nigeria’s Boko Haram and Ansaru militant groups as foreign terrorist organizations, a move that is likely to be welcomed by the Nigerian government who has been battling Boko Haram for years. Officials at the State Department have described the move as “an important” step in helping Nigeria “root out violent extremism.” Up to now, the Obama administration had refused to designate the militant group as a terrorist organization, fearing that the title would provide Boko Haram greater legitimacy within global jihadi circles. While the State Department designated three alleged Boko Haram leaders as terrorists, it did not declare the militant group a terrorist organization. With terrorist splinter groups threatening the Sahel region, one of the reasons behind the US decision to designate Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization is the fact that US officials have cited links to al-Qaeda’s affiliates in West Africa and to extremist groups in Mali. In turn, while Boko Haram was initially viewed as an organization which only posed a domestic threat, another reason why the US had not previously designated it as a terrorist organization, over the last three years, as its attacks have intensified, there have been signs that Boko Haram is now focusing on a more international agenda.
The move to designate Boko Haram and Ansaru as foreign terrorist organizations is significant as it effectively means that US regulatory agencies will be instructed to block all business and financial transactions with Boko Haram. It will also become a crime under US law to provide material support to the group. However it is unlikely that the US will attempt to identify Boko Haram’s financial backers, an undertaking which the Nigerian government has up to now failed to achieve.
Boko Haram, which began its insurgency in 2009, desires to impose Islamic law in northern Nigeria. Since the beginning of its insurgency, the militant group has been blamed for thousands of deaths, targeting both the military and civilians. The Islamist group is responsible for the 2011 bombing of the United Nation headquarters in Abuja. The militant group, and other splinter terrorist groups, are seen as being the largest security threat in Nigeria. Despite an ongoing military campaign, which was launched by President Goodluck Jonathan in May of this year, and which was recently extended for an additional six months, the militant group has continued to carry out its attacks throughout northern Nigeria. In one of the most recent incidents, fighters dressed in military uniform killed nineteen motorists after blocking a highway in the northeast of the country.
Ansaru was formed in January 2012 however it only rose to prominence about six months later after a video was released in which the militant group vowed to attack Westerners in defense of Muslims worldwide. While the group, which is based in Nigeria and seen as an off-shoot of Boko Haram, has had a short existence, it has nevertheless proved to be a threat, using dynamite to penetrate heavily-fortified compounds and taking foreigners hostage.
Two months after being formed, officials in the UK indicated that Ansaru’s militants had killed a Briton and an Italian hostage who had been kidnapped in the northwestern state of Sokoto. In December 2012, following an attack on a well-guarded compound in the northern town of Rimi, Ansaru claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of a French national, Francis Colump. It carried out a similar attack in February 2013 when seven foreign nationals were captured from a housing compound owned by a Lebanese construction company.