Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Mixed Week For Shipping In Africa

Good and Bad News from the Pirate Capital of the World
Shipping News Feature

SOMALIA – NIGERIA - The African coast has seen more activity in the past few days with a gang of suspected pirates foiled, an oil facility raided, a fatality at sea and the release of high profile hostages in addition to the attacks detailed in our story of the 14th November. There are liable to be more questions than answers when each story is analysed and doubts as to the efficacy of security measures in the region to protect oil terminals as well as freight and passenger ships or fishing vessels and private yachts.

On the 13th November the Spanish warship SPS Infanta Cristina patrolling as part of the EU NAVFOR Somalia protection force spotted a whaler some 200 miles off the Somali coast having been advised of her presence by an EU NAVFOR Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft (MPRA). The whaler was found to be operating with a skiff and was suspected of being a support vessel for pirate activities in the region. The warship launched its Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) with a specialist boarding team to intercept both vessels. The whaler was successfully intercepted and four suspected pirates found to be onboard. The skiff however successfully fled the scene.

Yet again there was insufficient evidence to pursue a prosecution. Therefore the whaler was destroyed and the four suspected pirates were returned to Somalia. Despite the fact that this action no doubt hampered pirate action and avoided highly probable attacks on merchant and vulnerable vessels many ship operators feel that they are not benefitting from a level playing field.

The actions of EU NAVFOR operatives are laudable but often do not provide sufficient a deterrent against the criminals who know the forces of law and order must have at least prima facie evidence before conducting arrests. The facts are however that by destroying the miscreants’ vessel the EU force are indicating that the persons they apprehend can only be conspiring to commit a crime.

Early on the 14th November another EU NAVFOR vessel, the Belgian warship BNS Louise Marie came across a stricken Yemeni fishing boat and discovered six fishermen clinging to the stricken craft which had overturned but was still floating. The fishermen (2 Yemeni, 2 Somali and 2 Tanzanian) reported that they were originally part of a ten-man crew.

The EU NAVFOR ship’s helicopter was immediately launched and a wider search of the area carried out to no avail. Three of the crew were missing and one man was found to be dead at the scene. The deceased fisherman was subsequently buried at sea. The surviving crew members were taken on board the Louise Marie and given medical assistance, food and water before being handed over to Yemeni authorities the following day.

Also on the 15th November it seems that around eight Nigerian oil workers were taken hostage in what appears to be the second attack in a fortnight off Akwa Ibom in the Niger Delta. This time the stricken facility was run by Exxon Mobil and follows a similar incident when a rig run by Afren witnessed seven foreign workers seized, ostensibly by members of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) whose sworn intent is to totally destroy the ability of the Nigerian government to export oil.

Shipping in the area is warned to be extra vigilant. In a happier footnote this week saw the release of the Chandlers by their Somali captors after around a year in captivity. When they were captured there was criticism both of the inadequacy of security in the area and of the couple themselves for travelling in such dangerous waters.

The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) who commented at the time, said they were delighted by the release and also thanked the ‘Save the Chandlers’ campaign for supporting the ‘End Piracy Now’ campaign being run by a coalition of organisations representing the majority of the world’s ships and ships’ crews. It recently delivered almost a million signatures calling for real action to end piracy to the International Maritime Organization.

Photo:- The upturned Yemeni fishing boat being approached by the EU NAVFOR rescue team.