Pirates Steal Cargo from Product Tanker in Western Gulf of Guinea

pirates steal cargo from product tanker in Gulf of Guinea
Suspected pirates were seen operating a fishing boat from Ghana (Danish Defence photo of fishing boats off Ghana in December 2021)

Published Jan 26, 2022 1:43 PM by The Maritime Executive

Pirates boarded a tanker working as a bunkering vessel in the Gulf of Guinea region and reportedly stole cargo from the ship before leaving. Initial reports had indicated a possible hijacking, but the crew was unharmed and reported safe. Security analysts have raised a warning noting that the incident occurred further west of most of the historic activity in the region with the culprits suspected of departing from Ghana. 

Analysts from Dryad Global are linking the confirmed boarding of the product tanker B. Ocean, a 5,700 dwt vessel operating under the flag of the Marshall Islands, to an earlier warning from MDAT-GOG of irregular activity along the western coast of Ghana. The monitoring bureau reported that local fishermen in the area had seen a group of unknown people heading out to sea in the early morning hours of January 24 in a fishing boat with a high-power motor. 

“The group is suspected to be a criminal group, possibly a pirate action group that is planning to attack vessels at sea,” MDAT said in its advisory. They were warning vessels in the area near Takoradi in western Ghana to be on alert.

Dryad reports that the owners of the product tanker lost contact with the vessel later that same day. The vessel was operating from Abidjan in Cote d’Ivoire, west of Ghana. The incident was reported when the vessel was silent with no AIS signal for more than 17 hours. Vessels sometimes purposefully turn off their AIS signal in the region to help elude detection from criminals active in the area. 

The boarding of the product tanker and the thief from its cargo was later confirmed. The vessel has resumed transmitting its AIS signal which shows that it has returned to Abidjan.

“The maritime crime and piracy footprint throughout the area is historically low,” reports Dryad in its analysis of the incident. Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana historically are low crime areas with most incidents being more of thief versus hijackings or assaults on crew. Dryad reports that there are thus far no reported incidents of piracy within the offshore domain near Abidjan.

Dryad in its analysis notes that this could represent an expansion of the area in which pirates are working, possibly in response to the increased enforcement efforts in the region near Nigeria which has been the historic focus of most of the activity in the region. Further, they noted that it would represent the first hijacking of a vessel in nearly a year in the broader region.

Last week, the Ghana Navy announced that its forces had been contracted to provide security and asset protection at two offshore oil fields. However, the broader Gulf of Guinea region continues to report greatly reduced criminal activity with other recent warnings only of irregular activity in the areas near Nigeria which could have been the precursor to assaults on ships and some thefts from anchored vessels.