By Godwin Oritse
THE United States of America, USA, has issued a Maritime Security Communication with Industry, MSCI, circular to guide vessels transiting through the Gulf of Guinea, GoG, with a view to alerting vessels in the event of an attack by pirates in the that region.
In the circular, the United States Department of Transportation and Maritime Administration warned that Piracy, Armed Robbery and Kidnapping for Ransom, KFR, continues to serve as a significant threat to U.S. flagged operators with vessels transiting or operating in the Gulf of Guinea.
According to the Office of Naval Intelligence’s “Shipping Threat Reports, 53 reported incidents of piracy and armed robbery at sea occurred in the GoG region this year as of July 06, 2020. This is a 27 percent decrease from the same period in 2019; however, the number of kidnappings and hijackings remain almost the same.
While boardings and attempted boardings to steal valuables from ships and crews are the most common types of incidents, almost a third of all incidents involve a hijacking and/or kidnapping. Approximately 50 percent of all incidents of piracy and armed robbery are taking place off Nigeria.
So far in 2020, there have been 16 kidnappings, two hijacking/kidnapping combinations, and one hijacking in the GoG. U.S. flagged operators with ships operating in or through the GoG Voluntary Reporting Area designated on Maritime Security Chart Q6114 should transit with extreme caution and vigilance.
During the first half of 2020, pirates and armed robbers operated off, at least, eight countries in the Gulf of Guinea (Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, and Gabon) targeting a variety of vessels to include tankers, container ships, general cargo vessels, fishing vessels, passenger vessels, and numerous vessels supporting oil drilling/production. Criminals/armed KFR groups have used mother ships to support KFR operations up to 160 nautical miles from shore.
It is not uncommon for these groups to fire upon targeted vessels during boardings and attempted boardings. KFR groups generally kidnap two to six high-value crewmembers to include the master, chief engineer, and any Western crewmembers, but there were several incidents over the past couple of years where ten or more crewmembers were kidnapped at one time. Kidnapped crewmembers are normally taken ashore in the Niger Delta region where KFR groups demand ransom payments in exchange for the safe return of the crewmembers.