Piracy update – Nigeria warning
The second quarter piracy report of the ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) published on 4 July 2017 reveals an encouraging decline in the number of reported incidents of piracy and armed robbery against vessels. The latest figures reveal that during the first half of 2017, some 87 incidents were reported to the IMB, recording some of the lowest figures reported during the last five years.
However, this encouraging downward trend should be considered carefully in view of resurgent attacks on vessels by Somali pirates and also in relation to the increasing prevalence of pirates in the Niger Delta.
A successful hijack of a product tanker en route from Singapore to Thailand took place in June 2017, reminding ship owners to avoid any complacency when navigating the Gulf of Aden. The IMB report reminds Masters to maintain high levels of vigilance when transiting the high-risk area and to adhere to Best Management Practices for Protection against Somalia Based Piracy Version 4 (BMP4) amongst other safeguards that could be adopted by owners.
A continuing concern
In the absence of headlines in the general media of Somali pirates demanding extortionate ransoms for the release of crew, one may be forgiven for assuming that piracy is a threat which has been neutralised worldwide. That is not the case. Pirates in Nigeria dominate the statistics in relation to kidnapping for ransom, having been responsible so far in 2017 for the abduction of 31 crew in five reported incidents. The IMB report recognises the need to seek a clearer understanding of what is perceived to be significant under-reporting in the Gulf of Guinea region and has proposed a resolution aimed at encouraging all stakeholders to share reports of piracy and armed robbery.
The modus operandi of Nigerian pirates (and those operating the South China Sea) is now well-known and has previously been described in the annual report of the Regional Corporation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against ships in Asia as follows:
“Perpetrators were interested in the manifest of fuel/oil on board the ships. Upon boarding, they tied the crew and locked them in the cabin, steered the ship to another location to syphon the fuel/oil to another ship which would come alongside. After syphoning, the perpetrators would destroy the ship’s communication and navigation equipment, steal the crew’s cash and personal belongings before leaving the ship”. (Annual Report 2014)
These attacks usually involve violence against crews with half of all reports of vessels being fired upon coming from Nigeria.
The prevalence of kidnapping for ransom occurring in the Gulf of Guinea is due to a multiplicity of reasons including the unstable political situation in Nigeria. Crisis managers report that the kidnaps for ransom have been undertaken exclusively for financial gain and there is no present awareness of any political demands made for the return of crew during the standard period of captivity which ranges from two to six weeks (significantly shorter than the period of captivity in cases of Somali hijackings).
What therefore can be done? Wide-ranging guidance has been provided by H&M insurers to owners operating in the West African region and we would submit that BMP4 should not be considered as a panacea. A number of significant additional measures are available to owners, including:
- Operation at a heightened state of security throughout the voyage
- Careful route planning (especially where ship to ship operations are scheduled via a “mother ship” over a prolonged period)
- Stress-testing of security procedures (including compliance with BMP4) prior to operating in the Gulf of Guinea.
The latest figures reported by the IMB reveal that the threat of piracy remains significant – albeit exacerbated in certain regions – and significant caution should be exercised when transiting the Gulf of Guinea. Despite the continued efforts of many nations to combat the problem in this region, the sheer volume of traffic means that piracy, kidnap for ransom and robberies will continue to be a problem for owners and insurers.