Tanker with 17 Crew Goes Missing off West Africa
On Monday, the Georgian government reported that the product tanker Pantelena has dropped out of contact and gone missing during a voyage in the Gulf of Guinea. 17 of her crewmembers are Georgian nationals, and according to Georgia's foreign ministry, there is a strong likelihood that she has been attacked by pirates.
“We cannot confirm or rule out anything. Maybe we are dealing with piracy, because the west African coast is a risk area. Of course, we are looking into this,” said Vladimir Konstantinidi, a consular official with Georgia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The ministry says that shipowner Lotus Shipping, Georgia's Sea Transport Agency, the Panama flag registry, regional maritime forces and United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) are involved in the response.
Maritime piracy - particularly kidnapping - is a serious concern in the Gulf of Guinea. According to EOS Risk Group, pirates kidnapped 35 crewmembers in the region in the first half of the year. In a worrying trend, the reach of Nigerian pirates has expanded to include waters off Benin and Ghana, west of the historical area of high risk off Bonny. However, 95 percent of the attacks were still concentrated near Bonny Island, within 60 nm of shore.
According to Oceans Beyond Piracy, 100 seafarers were kidnapped in the waters off the Gulf of Guinea last year, despite millions of dollars in funds for additional maritime security resources. Local authorities managed to stop only one act of piracy out of 97 recorded incidents.
Despite these risks and the relatively limited record of successful prevention, the Nigerian Navy forbids the presence of embarked private maritime security contractors in Nigerian ports, effectively banning their presence in the Gulf of Guinea. Armed shipboard guards proved successful in deterring pirates off Somalia during the peak years of risk off the Horn of Africa, but in Nigerian waters, government forces hold an effective monopoly on the provision of security services: Instead of embarked contractors, shipowners may hire a privately-owned and -operated escort vessel crewed by military personnel.
The European Community Shipowners' Association has called for an international diplomatic agreement to allow the carriage of guards in the region, and it has asked the EU to negotiate with the Gulf of Guinea states to lift their restrictions. In addition, ECSA has called for EU member states to replicate the successful multinational patrols off Somalia by deploying warships to the Gulf of Guinea.