West African pirate attacks around Nigeria are starting to mimic those off Somalia in a worrying development for shipping, according to security-intelligence company Bergen Risk Solutions.
According to its analysis, attacks on vessels involved in ship-to-ship (STS) transfers off Cotonou, Benin, by pirates originally from Nigeria have been continuing to increase. There were five attacks in June alone, three involving products tankers, with an increasing number of Somali-like hijackings rather than the usual simple robbery.
The attacks demonstrate the increase in sophistication of the pirates through the use of Automatic Identification Systems (AIS), as well as in violence, with one seafarer recently killed. The deepsea attacks also demonstrate the pirates are increasing their range.
Nigerian pirates have also been using motherships. Bergen Risk said: “Anecdotal evidence gathered in Nigeria confirms that the group has watched the modus operandi used by Somali pirates and has emulated their use of motherships.”
It added: “We find that most attacks are carried out in the hours of darkness, that pirates have no problems in carrying strikes up to 50 to 60 nautical miles from shore (but the vast majority of incidents are much closer to land) and that they have a very low threshold for using violence. Many crew members have been severely beaten and even shot during attacks.”
Among the many attacks, the 12,000-dwt products tanker Aritofanis (built 2005) was hijacked off Cotonou port and taken to Lome in Togo, and the 12,800-dwt New Ranger (built 2007) was put through a similar ordeal. On 26 June, the 10,800-dwt Caliope (built 2005) was ordered to sail to Lagos from Cotonou.
The most recent and largest ship to be attacked was Lauritzen’s 53,700-dwt Freja Hafnia (built 2006), which was robbed on 30 June.
In a separate development on the opposite coast of Somalia, the accommodation unit of the 150,000-dwt tanker Brillante Virtuoso (built 1992) caught fire when it came under attack on Wednesday. Both crew and pirates were forced to flee the ship following the fire, which was later extinguished. The incident is being seen as demonstrating the potential for pirate attacks to result in a major casualty.