18 December 2013

Pirate Gangs Still Active but Attacks on Cargo Vessels and Tankers Switch Coasts  

As Incidents Reduce off Somalia, African West Coast sees as 30 Percent Rise

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AFRICA – The latest news from the coastline of the continent further highlights the disparity between East and West as regards the crimes which occur at sea in the different regions. On Monday (16 December) a gang of ten attacked an oil tanker, the MT Althea, registered in the Marshalls Islands and with a complement of eighteen crew members. The raid was almost surgical in nature, no attempt to steal either vessel or her cargo of oil but two senior crew, the Ukrainian captain and the Greek engineer, were abducted and transferred to the criminals speedboat which then departed.

Vessels transiting the Gulf of Guinea, including the hundreds engaged in aspects of oil recovery and carriage, rarely carry armed private security personnel, unlike the freight and passenger ships which travel in the Indian Ocean and off the Somali coastline. A report, ‘Pirate Trails’, published cooperatively last month by the World Bank, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and Interpol, and downloadable HERE, states that Somali pirate earnings in the period from April 2005 to December 2012 amounted to around $400 million and goes on to trace where the money went and how it was invested overseas.

Since 2012 we have witnessed a dramatic fall in pirate incidents off the Somali coast, thanks to the efficiency and sheer determination of the various combined naval forces who have addressed the problem directly, and the common policy amongst ship owners to utilise the services of armed assistance aboard their vessels or to travel in convoy under escort whilst transiting the likely trouble spots.

Whereas two years ago we published stories of Somali piracy on an almost daily basis the latest confirmed attack we have been briefed on by the EU Naval Force took place on the 6th November when five men in a fast skiff fired automatic weapons at a chemical tanker registered in Hong Kong only to be beaten off by return fire from the vessel’s own armed security team. Contrast this with the increasing numbers of attacks, particularly against those employed in aspects of the oil industry, which we are now seeing off the Nigerian coastline where armed personnel are the exception rather than the rule.

The problems in Somalia have not got better, the incidents of crime and violence have merely been confined almost exclusively to the land, and whilst any political solution awaits, the problems of refugees and religion inspired violence are increasing rather than diminishing. Along Africa’s west coast however the criminal activity largely began due to the corruption inspired devastation after land rights were abused, causing local population shifts and wholesale poverty as traditional industries like agriculture and fishing were ravaged.

Now it seems the political ends of groups such as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which we have reported before, are developing more and more with ransoms in mind and no other obvious credible agenda. Last month the group claimed credit for negotiating the ransom, said to be $2 million, the proceeds of an attack on an oil supply vessel, C-Retriever, which resembled that on the Althea, the captain and chief engineer kidnapped, the crew and cargo left unharmed.

With a 30% increase in attacks so far this year it seems it will be only a matter of time until the situation in the region demands an approach more like that adopted on the opposite side of the continent, particularly with regard to the wholesale use of private security measures.

Photo: The crew of the EU Naval Force German frigate, FGS Niedersachsen capture an image of ten would be Somali pirates desperately dumping overboard the long ladders used to climb the sides of large vessels when under way, to avoid there use as evidence.

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