Missing Vessel Feared Hijacked in Gulf of Guinea Found, Crew Safe
With the reports of dramatic increases in the number of attacks on vessels in the Gulf of Guinea, security services issued warnings when a tanker went missing this week with its reporting devices turned off. Analysis and the media feared the worst that the vessel had been hijacked or the crew kidnapped, and even now with reports that the crew is safe the circumstances of the events remain uncertain.
Reports indicated that the 16,700 DWT tanker Errina registered in Panama triggered its Ship Security Alert System (SSAS) on October 20. Shortly after that, the vessel’s AIS went off adding to the fear that it had been hijacked.
The confusion continued with varying reports of the ship’s last known position and direction. Dryad Global reported that the SSAS signal placed the tanker approximately 200 nautical miles west of Sao Tome, an island that would have been south and west of the vessel’s normal area of operation in west Africa.
Later reports revised the ship’s position to say she was south of Lagos, Nigeria. Dryad reports that she recorded her departure from Cameroon’s Limboh anchorage heading in a southwest direction. The vessel’s established service area is believed to be between Lomé, Lagos, and the wider Niger Delta region.
After analysis of the situation, Dryad said that it believes the vessel was approached and boarded, but that the crew retreated into is safety zone away from the boarders. Supporting this theory, later reports indicated that the entire crew was safe and accounted for aboard the tanker.
Dryad is now suggesting an alternative for the ship’s signal having gone dark. They are reporting that it is an established practice by some operators to turn off their AIS while operating in the area as a safety measure against pirates that might be searching for ship’s position data. The analysis, however notes that the Nigerian Navy has recently mounted operations to interdict and arrest any vessel found not broadcasting on AIS.
While there has been an increase in overall activity in the region, Dryad concludes that the number of incidents in the area where the Errina was sailing have declined, with this being only the nineteenth reported event this year in the Nigerian EEZ.