MS Risk Blog

Two Pirate attacks Reported in W. Africa in Recent Days

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On Monday 4 November, pirates attacked a Greek oil tanker off the coast of Togo and fled after taking four crewmembers hostage, just two days after a similar attack was carried out in the waters of neighbouring Benin.

Officials have reported that those kidnapped in Monday’s attack include two Filipino nationals, one Greek and one Georgian. One security guard was also shot and wounded in the attack.  A statement released by the Togolese Navy disclosed that “Monday, 4thof November 2019, around 0300, the tanker boat Elka Aristotle (…) was attacked around 18 kilometres (11 miles) from the port of Lomé by armed individuals.”  The vessel’s manager, European Product Carriers Ltd. confirmed the early morning attack, though provided no further details. Greece’s shipping ministry has meanwhile disclosed that it is “closely monitoring the issue.”  The Togolese Navy has also reported that armed guards were present on the Greek vessel and tried to fight off the attackers, noting that one was wounded in the incident.  An investigation into the attack has been opened.

Monday’s attack follows the abduction by pirates of nine Filipino crewmembers from a Norwegian-flagged boat off the coast of Benin on Saturday 2 November.  A vessel owned by Norwegian shipping firm J.J. Ugland was boarded by pirates while at anchor off the coast of Benin on Saturday, with nine crewmembers kidnapped, the company confirmed on Sunday. A statement released by the company indicated that the remaining crew of the Norwegian-flagged MV Bonita notified local authorities and the vessel docked at the port city of Cotonou later on Saturday, adding that the vessel was destined for Benin.  Citing safety reasons, the company did not reveal the crew’s nationalities or how many had avoided capture.

Third quarter figures this year released by the International Chamber of Commerce International Maritime Bureau (IMB) indicate that there were fewer incidents of piracy and armed robbery against vessels than the first nine months of 2018.  So far this year, a total of 119 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against vessels have been reported, compared to 156 incidents for the same period in 2018.  Overall, the 2019 incidents comprised of 95 vessels boarded, 10 vessels fired upon, 10 attempted attacks, and four vessels hijacked. The number of crewmembers taken hostage through the first nine months of this year has declined from 112 in 2018 to 49 in 2019.  While the overall number of incidents has declined, the IMB notes that incidents involving guns and knives remain consistent, stating that there have been 24 knife-related and 35 gun-related incidents reported this year, compared to 25 and 37 for the first nine months of 2018.  The statistics confirm the IMB’s concerns over continued threats to the safety and security of seafarers.

While piracy has decreased worldwide, West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea remains a high-risk area for abductions and armed robbery.  The region accounts for 86% of crewmembers taken hostage and nearly 82% of crewmember kidnappings globally.  So far this year, Lagos, Nigeria has reported 11 incidents – the highest number of any port in the world.  Despite reporting more attacks than any other country, Nigeria saw its attacks reduced in the third quarter of this year from 41 during the same period in 2018 to 29 in 2019.  Nevertheless, the greater Gulf of Guinea region remains the piracy hotspot.  Recent attacks in the region include the July incident of a general cargo vessel that was hijacked approximate 120 nautical miles southwest of Brass.  Ten crewmembers were kidnapped from the vessel and were released four weeks later. In August, a bulk carrier and a general cargo vessel were boarded within ours of each other at Douala anchorage, Cameroon.  A total of seventeen crewmembers were kidnapped from the vessels.  Within six weeks, all kidnapped crewmembers were released. This incidents demonstrates the range of piracy activity in the Gulf of Guinea and that all types of vessels are vulnerable to attack.  ICC IMB Director Pottengal Mukundan notes that “although incidents are down, the Gulf of Guinea continues to be a concern for piracy and armed robbery-related activities with kidnappings of crewmembers increasing in both scale and frequency,” adding that “it is important that shipmasters and owners continue to report all actual, attempted and suspected incidents to ensure that an accurate picture of these attacks emerge and action is taken against these criminals before the incidents further escalate.”