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Gulf of Guinea: Rising crude oil price pushing up pirate attacks on high seas

Observed stability in rising crude oil price has jerked up serial attacks on crude oil tankers by pirate in the Gulf of Guinea.

Oil price has steadied at over $70. Weekend,  Bonny light was $73, Brent crude was $72.50. This marks a significant increase from about $55 same period last year.

Leading security services company, EOS Risk Group, showed that Nigerian pirates kidnapped 35 seafarers from vessels in the Gulf of Guinea between January and June 2018, thus raising questions on the competence of Nigerian Navy and leadership of Nigerian Maritime Safety and Administration (NIMASA) on the safety of Nigerian territorial waters.

Media reports since this year show that several international ships calling on Nigerian habours including Lagos port complexes and even Port Harcourt, spend thousands of dollars on private security that escort ships to avoid pirate attacks.

Within the period under review, the number of sailors kidnapped from vessels and held for ransom was the same as witnessed during the first half (H1) of 2017, but the report indicated that the spate of attacks on tanker vessels had increased drastically.

EOS Risk report averred that “Petro-piracy had been dormant for the past two years with only two attempted hijack for oil theft cases reported, but it 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 2,000MT 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,”

Besides, the attacks involved several successful tanker hijackings, one of which resulted in the loss of 2,000 tonnes of product. Nigerian pirates also allegedly operated in Ghanaian waters in April, kidnapping five seafarers from two vessels.

Explaining more, a senior Intelligence Analyst at EOS Risk, Jake Longworth, observed in the report that “Most concerning this year has been the resurgence of ‘petro-piracy,’ involving the hijacking of tankers for oil theft. The return of petro-piracy has been accompanied by an associated increase in the geographical reach of Nigerian pirate gangs, leading to attacks in the waters of Benin, and Ghana. 95 per cent of attacks we recorded in Nigerian waters occurred near Bonny Island, within 60 nautical miles of the shore. Pirates operating in these waters are focused on the kidnap of seafarers for ransom.”

He noted that the main threat is still found off the restive Niger Delta, specifically on the approaches to ports and oil terminals in the vicinity of Port Harcourt. It was in this area that heavily armed pirates kidnapped 11 seafarers from the Dutch general cargo vessel, FWN Rapidein, April. This is the highest number of hostages taken by a Nigerian pirate group in a single attack.

Part of the report as revealed by the Head of Special Risks at EOS, Steven Harwood, who covers kidnap for ransom response, said there are two main pirate gangs in Nigeria, both employing around 16 full time pirates.

“One is located in the creeks near Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, and the other around Abonnema, Rivers State. Both gangs are in communication, and sometimes subcontract the physical hostage taking to other criminal groups. Since the turn of the Century, this pattern has been visible in Nigeria, ahead of major election periods, evidence of the complex links between piracy and political conflict in the Niger Delta.”

Whereas the report hinted that the instability in the Niger Delta is likely to increase in the run up to Nigeria’s 2019 general elections, which could result in a spike in piracy activity, the report recommended Masters implement Global Counter Piracy Guidance (GCPG) measures, and familiarise themselves with the Guidelines for Owners,

Operators and Masters for protection against piracy in the Gulf of Guinea region – version 3, June 2018.”

The report said all 2018 crew kidnappings took place in the Gulf of Guinea in six separate incidents, while a total of 107 incidents were reported to the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) during the six-month period.

In total, 69 vessels were boarded, with 23 attempted attacks, 11 vessels fired upon and four vessels hijacked. No vessels were reported as hijacked in the second quarter.

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