One Killed, 15 Abducted in Gulf of Guinea Pirate Attack

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Published Jan 24, 2021 2:16 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Saturday morning, a boxship was reportedly boarded by pirates and its citadel breached at a position off Sao Tome, according to security consultancy Praesidium International. 

Praesidium reports that at about 0530 hours on Saturday morning, the Turkish-operated container ship Mozart was transiting about 95 nm to the northwest of Sao Tome when she was boarded by four armed assailants. The crew retreated to the vessel's citadel, but the pirates managed to breach it. 

15 crewmembers were kidnapped and one was killed in the altercation, vessel operator Boden Maritime confirmed in a statement. The victim has been identified as engineer Farman Ismayilov, an Azerbaijani national. 

Crewmembers and security sources told Reuters that the attack was well-coordinated and sophisticated, and the assailants may have used explosives to breach the citadel. According to Turkey's maritime directorate, the pirates were aboard and working on the abduction for six hours, with no reported law enforcement or military interference. They successfully escaped with the victims.

The remaining three crewmembers are in control of the vessel and are proceeding to Port-Gentil, Gabon. One of them sustained shrapnel wounds in the attack, according to Turkish state media. 

Anadolu reports that the vessel's bridge equipment were damaged by the attackers, and the remaining crew has limited means to navigate safely back to port. 

The president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has spoken twice with one of the vessel's officers about the attack, according to Anadolu. Turkish diplomatic efforts to secure the release of the survivors are currently under way. 

Systemic risk

Piracy is a routine threat in the Gulf of Guinea, and the region has become the world's epicenter for maritime kidnapping. Over the past several years, experienced criminals and insurgents from the Niger River Delta have transitioned away from fuel theft in favor of seafarer abduction, ranging hundreds of miles from Nigerian shores to attack vessels off the coasts of neighboring countries. Attacks have been reported as far as 200 nm offshore. 

A patchwork of national regulation interferes with the use of embarked private maritime security contractors (PMSCs), and many vessels sail through the region undefended. In particular, the Nigerian Navy has repeatedly used Nigerian antipiracy laws to target suspected private security guards

PMSCs were a major factor in the effort to end piracy in the high-risk area off Somalia. Nigeria only permits private contractors to provide for-hire Security Escort Vessel (SEV) services using civilian boats and armed Nigerian Navy active duty servicemembers. According to one well-regarded security services firm, this system has historically been challenged by "extremely high costs and issues of poor performance and reliability."