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Captain and Two Crew Kidnapped from Bulker off Gabon, West Africa

crew kidnapping West Africa
Pirates are believed to have kidnapped crewmembers from a bulker anchored off Gabon in West Africa (file photo)

Published May 2, 2023 12:10 PM by The Maritime Executive

Three crewmembers from a bulker are being reported as missing and believed kidnapped in the third incident of piracy in recent weeks in the region. Security services and reporting agencies are raising the alarm based on the sudden uptick in pirate activity in West Africa.

Details on the current incident are scarce as it is ongoing. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) is confirming that it received reports that the captain and two officers are missing for a Marshall Islands-register bulker, the Grebe Bulker. The vessel is operated by Eagle Bulk which is also confirming the ongoing situation while declining to provide more details due to the sensitive nature of the current events.

Built in 2010, the 13-year-old vessel is a standard supermax bulker. She is 57,800 dwt and 623 feet long. Her AIS signal shows she had been in Lagos and later Port Harcourt, Nigeria from where she departed on April 29. She is reported to be waiting in the Owendo Anchorage off Gabon where she arrived on April 30 for her next assignment. 

Reports are saying the alarm was raised shortly after midnight with the crew unable to locate three of their colleagues. A search of the ship failed to turn up the captain and two other crewmembers. Security forces later reached the vessel and confirmed that 17 crewmembers were aboard and unharmed.

Security consultants Neptune P2P Group in their report is saying that the vessel was understood to be drifting offshore of Owendo. They are reporting that there were no security personnel onboard the vessel.

Just over a month ago, there was another incident also in the region when a Monjasa tanker was boarded and hijacked by pirates. The vessel was missing for days before the French patrol boat Premier Maitre L’Her secured the ship and reported that six crewmembers had been kidnapped when the pirates left the ship. The individuals are still being held likely in Nigeria. Another tanker was also hijacked in the Gulf of Guinea near Cote d’Ivoire but in that case the pirates stole cargo and abandon the ship several days later.

There have also been reports of pirates boarding anchored and moored vessels attempting to steal loose equipment. The crew aboard an offshore vessel in the Luanda Inner Anchorage in Angola on April 25 spotted robbers aboard their ship and raised the alarm. Reports indicated the boarders escaped, possibly with an outboard motor. 

Three days later another incident happened in the northern part of the Gulf of Guinea. Between six and eight armed perpetrators were seen aboard an unidentified cargo ship alongside the terminal at Lagos. They fled when they were discovered. The crew was unharmed and it is believed that nothing of value was taken from the ship.

Security services and monitoring agencies are saying the recent events highlight the need to maintain security despite the overall decline in piracy incidents in the region over the past year.