After a slow start to piracy this year, authorities in the Ivory Coast have confirmed that Panama-flagged product tanker Itri was hijacked for its cargo on January 16.
Itri was reportedly preparing to deposit some 5,000 tonnes of oil product at the port of Abidjan when the vessel was targeted.
A government statement has confirmed that the vessel has subsequently been located off neighbouring Ghana; it is not clear at the present time whether the assailants have relinquished control of the vessel. The local security services have been mobilised.
Dryad Maritime Intelligence said: “Previously, a Nigerian territorial waters phenomenon, this type of crime spread to neighbouring Benin in 2011 and then Togo in 2012. The first incident outside of these areas occurred on October 6, 2012, when the tanker Orfeas was targeted by a party of armed assailants whilst at anchor awaiting STS operations offshore Abidjan.
“Following this incident a suspicious approach, that bore all the hallmarks of a potential extended duration robbery, was reported against a tanker anchored offshore Abidjan on December 23, 2012.
“The January 16 incident marks a departure in the cargo theft model by confirming the range demonstrated in the Orfeas attack is not a one-off.”
Prior to the attack last week, activity in the Gulf of Guinea had been quiet and Dryad said no confirmed incidents had been reported through its channels thus far in 2013. By this date in 2012, there had already been eight attacks reported in the Gulf of Guinea.
Dryad said there was a rapid increase toward the end of 2012 in specific attacks against offshore energy industry support vessels while operating in the oil and gas fields off the Niger Delta.
“The specific purpose of these types of attacks is the kidnap of crew, both expatriate and indigenous, who are then held to ransom,” Dryad director of intelligence Ian Millen said.
“A ransom was reportedly paid in at least one incident to secure the freedom of three Hyundai Heavy Industries workers, kidnapped from a passenger vessel along Odioma Creek inshore on December 17.”
Looking to the next three months, Bergen Risk Solutions predicts that the risk of piracy in the bights of Bonny and Benin will spread westwards and that laden oil product tankers will continue to be the preferred targets.
“Even though most attacks during the past six months have occurred relatively close to shore, pirates are likely to continue to hijack trawlers and other commercial vessels and use them as staging platforms for piracy and maritime crime far from nearest land,” it warned in its latest report on the area.
The intelligence firm said the areas of greatest risk were likely to be the Bight of Bonny, most notably offshore Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross River states, and their waterways, including the Bonny River — and the stretch of water between Lagos and Lomé in Togo.
“The waters offshore the Bakassi Peninsula on the Nigeria-Cameroon border should also be considered a security high-risk area even though government security initiatives have driven down attacks off the peninsula as well as on Calabar River,” Bergen said.
Post-amnesty training programme for former Niger Delta militants continues to progress, however. Bergen said it has been successful in bringing stability to large parts of the Niger Delta, despite local relapses, frustrations and complaints.
International bodies are also starting to react to the situation in west Africa. The European Union has recently announced a new project to improve security and the safety of maritime routes across seven countries in the Gulf of Guinea.