With a third tanker hijacked in West Africa in as many weeks, questions have been raised over how far piracy in the Gulf of Guinea should be a growing concern for shipowners and insurers.
The 2008-built, 51,068 dwt combined chemical and oil tanker Abu Dhabi Star was hijacked on Tuesday and while shipmanager Pioneer has had contact with the crew, the firm has not been contacted by the pirates holding the vessel.
The attack is likely to follow the same path as the two that have also occurred in the last two and half weeks. Energy Centurion and Anuket Emerald were both hijacked off Lomé, Togo, and the crews were released after the cargo had been removed.
However, the location of the most recent attack indicates that the range of pirate attacks in this area is expanding.
Experts are now advising shipowners to wait twice the distance from shore than they observed in 2010 as attacks have taken place 120 miles from the coastline.
There has been debate on Lloyd’s List’s LinkedIn group about the evidence that piracy in West Africa is on the rise. From an insurance perspective, the Lloyd’s Maritime Academy has been receiving mounting requests for training on West African piracy.
Dryad Maritime Intelligence director of intelligence Ian Millen said piracy in the Gulf of Guinea was a growing concern.
“Although from an insurance perspective, it represents nowhere near the level of financial risk that results from the activities of Somali pirates in the Horn of Africa region,” he said.
“In the Gulf of Guinea crime ranges from cargo theft, which features the temporary loss of ships and their crews, to violent robberies that can often result in serious injury and death, sometimes for little more than ships’ stores and personal possessions.”
Mr Millen said that while the organisational model for holding ships for ransom in Somalia was sophisticated and complex, a similar level of sophistication could be found in the Gulf of Guinea’s model for refined oil product cargo theft.
“Knowing which tankers to target, organising logistics for offloading to other vessels and making arrangements for sale of their ill-gotten gains ashore on the black market takes a certain amount of intelligence, professional seamanship and criminal organisation,” he said.
Dryad has advised the shipping industry to use extreme caution when navigating in this high-risk area and Mr Millen said interest in intelligence services and the armed security solutions for West Africa is on the increase.