The hijacking of a combined chemical and oil tanker off Benin last week has raised concerns that Somali tactics are being copied off West Africa.
Some items were taken from the Liberia-flagged Zouzou but no crew members were harmed in the attack and the robbers left the vessel. However, this is one of the first reported incidents of pirates in the Gulf of Guinea using a mothership and skiffs, according to Gary Li, head of marine and aviation at London intelligence company Exclusive Analysis.
“I have heard of only two reports which have been similar but this is the clearest indication that pirates in this area are mimicking Somali tactics and landing skiffs,” he said. “They hijacked the vessel and stole the cargo but did not take any crew members hostage as this is not really a trend in the Gulf of Guinea.”
The 2010-built, 50,651 dwt Zouzou sent a distress call after being attacked by pirates early yesterday. A couple of minutes later it called mayday and reported that it was under attack by approximately 12 armed pirates.
Piracy in the region is not new. The London insurance market highlighted it as a risk last August and adjusted premiums accordingly. However, up to this point, pirate activity has been thought to be distinct from what has been common in the Gulf of Aden.
If pirates in the Gulf of Guinea continue to copy Somali tactics, this could force shipowners and governments to call for more security in the area. There is no international security effort in the Gulf of Guinea, which was named a high risk area by the International Bargaining Forum this week. Maritime security in the area is undertaken by regional navies but Mr Li said that they are “totally incapable of handling the situation”.
He added: “The UN pushed for action, but the problem is that in this instance it is not dealing with a failed state and there is no vacuum.
“The Gulf of Guinea straddles several coastlines and therefore a significant amount of co-operation between states is needed. Currently the effort is overly reliant on Nigeria, but it can’t possibly patrol an area that large.”
Matthew Lamb, deputy director of Control Risks Group, which operates in the region, said: “One of the major issues is the security forces of these countries. Mostly this would fall to navies that are under-funded, under-resourced and poorly trained.
“They would find it very difficult to respond to a ship’s distress call at all, let alone immediately, unless they happened to have a ship in the area. This is certainly a contributory factor in the amount of maritime crime that we see in the Gulf of Guinea.”