Report: Kidnappings By Pirates up 40% in Gulf of Guinea

By Emmanuel Addeh in Abuja with agency report

Kidnappings rose by 40 per cent in the Gulf of Guinea in the first nine months of this year, a report by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) , indicated yesterday.

It noted that the region off West Africa’s coast now accounts for 95 per cent of global maritime kidnappings, a Reuters report stated.

The IMB said 80 seafarers were taken in the Gulf of Guinea, a 2.3 million square kilometres (888,000 square metres) area bordering more than a dozen countries, sharply up from the same period in 2019, adding that the pirates are attacking further out to sea than before.

Pirates armed with guns and knives attack everything from oil platforms to fishing vessels and refrigerated cargo ships.

In one attack 95 nautical miles off the coast, the furthest offshore attack reported in the region, pirates took 13 crew hostage, which the IMB said illustrated “how well-organised and far-reaching” the pirates are

The report stated that the bulk of the attackers come from Nigeria’s Niger Delta, which produces most of the petroleum from the country, Africa’s largest oil exporter, stressing that the restive region has an underdeveloped economy and limited jobs for locals.

In 2019, Nigeria enacted a standalone law against piracy, and in August, a court in the oil hub of Port Harcourt made the first convictions under the legislation.

According to the IMB report, pirates armed with guns and knives are now abducting bigger groups of seafarers at further distances off the West African coast.

The latest global piracy report details 132 attacks since the start of 2020, up from 119 incidents in the same period last year.

Of the 85 seafarers kidnapped from their vessels and held for ransom, 80 were taken in the Gulf of Guinea – in 14 attacks reported off Nigeria, Benin, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Ghana.

In the first nine months of 2020, seafarers reported 134 cases of assault, injury and threats, including 85 crewmembers being kidnapped and 31 held hostage onboard their ships.

“A total of 112 vessels were boarded and six were fired upon, while 12 reported attempted attacks. Two fishing vessels were hijacked, both in the Gulf of Guinea.

“Crews are facing exceptional pressures due to Covid-19, and the risk of violent piracy or armed robbery is an extra stress,” said Michael Howlett, Director of IMB.

“While IMB liaises with authorities swiftly in case of a pirate attack, we encourage all coastal states and regional cooperation to take responsibility for ensuring maritime security within their EEZ to achieve safer seas and secure trade,” he added.

On 17 July 2020, eight pirates armed with machine guns boarded a product tanker underway around 196 nautical miles southwest of Bayelsa, Nigeria.

They held all 19 crewmembers hostage, stole ship’s documents and valuable items, and escaped with 13 kidnapped crew.

The tanker was left drifting with limited and unqualified navigational and engine crew onboard.

A nearby merchant vessel later helped the tanker to sail to a safe port. Regional authorities were notified and the 13 kidnapped crewmembers were released safely one month later.

It added that a more recent example was on 8 September 2020, when armed pirates attacked a refrigerated cargo ship underway around 33nautical miles south-southwest of Lagos.

Two crewmembers were kidnapped, but the rest of the crew managed to retreat into the citadel – one of the industry’s recommended best practices endorsed by IMB.

A Nigerian naval team was dispatched, who boarded, conducted a search, and then escorted the ship to a safe anchorage for investigations.

The IMB piracy report included a special thanks to the Nigerian Authorities, particularly the Nigerian Navy and Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) who “continue to provide timely information, actions and valuable cooperation between Agencies”.

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