West African Scenario Condensed

By MarEx 2013-03-08 10:46:00

Maritime crime has been present in West Africa for many years and vessel operators familiar with the region will be well aware of crimes such as robbery from vessels at anchorages, pilferage of cargo by stevedores and other local practices such as routine shortage claims. A number of recent high profile cases involving vessel hijack and personnel kidnap have brought maritime crime in the waters off West Africa into greater focus.

Maritime crime is of great concern to both ship operators and the seafarers operating vessels trading to West Africa.

The West African High Risk Areas

The high risk area encompasses the Gulf of Guinea, the Bight of Benin and the Bight of Bonny. This includes the territorial waters of Togo, Benin, and Nigeria. There has been recent expansion by suspected Nigerian pirates into the waters of the Ivory Coast.

As for West Africa, piracy is rising in the Gulf of Guinea, with 58 incidents recorded in 2012, including 10 hijackings, and 207 crew companies taken hostage. Pirates in this area are particularly violent, with guns reported in at least 37 of the attacks.

Nigeria accounted for 27 incidents in 2012, with four vessels hijacked, 13 vessels boarded, eight fired upon and two attempted attacks.

Togo has also seen an increase from five reports in 2011 to 15 in 2012, including four hijackings.

Off the Ivory Coast, 5 incidents were reported in 2012, up from one in 2011. In the last quarter of 2012 a panamax product tanker was hijacked by suspected Nigerian pirates off Abidjan, the first such recorded vessel hijacking off the Ivory Coast. This shows the increased range of Nigerian pirates.

It should be noted that it is widely believed that there is significant under reporting of maritime criminal incidents occurring in West Africa.

Who Are the Criminals?

There is a wide spectrum of potential maritime criminals in West Africa. They range from opportunistic thieves looking to rob vessels at anchor, and stevedores stealing small amounts of cargo, to highly large amounts of cargo, to highly sophisticated criminal gangs that can operate across national boundaries.

These gangs have the ability to identify, track and hijack specific vessels and conduct ship to ship transfers of petroleum cargoes offshore. Added to the criminal mix are politically motivated militias who regard maritime assets, in particular those connected to the local oil industry, as legitimate targets.

Heavily armed militants and criminals use manoeuvrable speedboats to attack vulnerable targets.

Types of West African Maritime Crime

• Kidnap for ransom in the Niger Delta region, including offshore platforms, support vessels and riverine vessels.

• Theft of crude oil and fuel oil, particularly in Nigeria’s coastal and offshore regions

• Cargo smuggling and fraud, particularly refined petroleum products.

• Cargo theft, of various other commodities.

• Robbery of vessels at anchor. Items taken can include cash, valuables and personal possessions, as well as the pilfering of containers.

• Vessel hijack for the purpose of cargo theft. The primary targets are refined petroleum products, particularly gasoline.

All of these criminal activities are serious in nature but the kidnap for ransom of vessel crews, and the hijack of vessels for the purpose of cargo theft are perhaps of most concern to ship operators and their crews.


Vessel surveillance
Good surveillance of, and communications with, with, the vessel, particularly when it is in a vulnerable area, will improve your ability to warn and utilize those local military/law enforcement agencies that you assess as being capable of providing timely, effective support. However, the effectiveness of local agencies and military can vary greatly from location to location and expert advice may be required to assess the effectiveness of these forces in your vessel’s area of operation. An emergency surveillance and tracking plan should be developed before the vessel enters the high risk area.

Vessel hardening
Vessels operating in West Africa are often required to spend lengthy periods either drifting or at anchorages. A stationary vessel is an easy target for pirates. Vessel hardening techniques used to protect moving vessels in the Indian Ocean are not likely to prove effective for stationary vessels. When considering physical defenses for a stationary vessel it may be more appropriate to think about the type of defenses a land facility would require to make it secure from attack by armed gangs. Obviously this type of hardening can require considerable forward planning and cost and is another area where expert advice may prove invaluable.

Armed guards
Whilst the use of armed guards in the Indian Ocean is becoming routine the West African situation is much less developed. There are a number of complications such as local legislation, operating across national boundaries, and the more complex types of operation that may be taking place, such as offshore support and STS operations.

Local laws require that armed guards should be from the local government security forces. This introduces potential safety, security and political issues with the use of such guards, particularly if a vessel needs to operate in the territorial waters of more than one coastal state in the region.

Employment of local security force armed guards customarily takes place via a local agency Operators should seek to ensure that the agency they use is employing local security forces that are on duty, and as such an informed and legitimate part of the local intelligence/military network.

Companies should also be aware of the practice of using a reputable security provider, such as those employed in the Gulf of Aden, to facilitate the use of armed guards in West Africa. Such providers can source legitimate companies of the security forces and provide personnel to act as a liaison between the Master and the Nigerian forces once embarked on a vessel.

Obviously, given the potential problems, Companies should exercise extra care when assessing whether or not to use armed guards for West African operations.

Companies considering the employment of armed guards in West Africa should contact Armed-Piracy-Defence LLC. to discuss the situation.

The products and services herein described in this press release are not endorsed by The Maritime Executive.