If a legal battle to reclaim the stolen gasoil cargo from Anuket Emerald is successful, it will be the first time this has happened and may signal a new way to cope with piracy in West Africa, according to Stephenson Harwood partner in marine insurance and international trade Alex Davies.
Mr Davies said Anuket Emerald provides new twists on a familiar West African tale. He explained the incident marked a change as the pirates used belt-fed machine guns defensively and were more heavily armed than previously.
Almost all of the pirates had guns and they also used metal ladders rather than makeshift ones. The group seized the cargo documents, disabled the communications and the name of the vessel was partly painted out so it read Rald.
After the discharge of the gasoil, this hijack could easily have followed the same pattern as those before it.
However, the second officer, who was brought up from the mess to assist with navigation, caught a glimpse of the ship-to-ship transfer vessel and noted it had an orange hull with a round funnel — traits which Mr Davies said are quite distinctive.
Stephenson Harwood worked with intelligence firm Gray Page to establish a likely vessel and, using AIS, they pinpointed one that had discharged a gasoil cargo at a jetty in Lagos.
The documents submitted to the jetty showed it had loaded from a vessel named Ralb. Nigerian authorities were alerted and they seized the cargo.
Stephenson Harwood has taken samples of the oil. Mr Davies said it is possible to fingerprint oil and prove who it belongs to from its chemical make-up.
“We are working to try and get the oil back but this has proved to be the trickiest part. If we are successful, it will be the first time this has ever been done,” he said.
Mr Davies said there were things shipowners could be doing to aid detection in the future.
“Swift identification of the vessel is key so it can be arrested prior to discharge. In this case, we were extremely lucky the second officer had a glimpse of the STS vessel and that its characteristics were distinctive.”
Solutions include a small hidden GPS transmitter with a dedicated power source and an embedded time camera proving the identification of the bandit vessel.
These would need to be fitted without the knowledge of the crew, as there is a risk that pirates will torture seafarers until they reveal the location of any devices.
Gray Page has recently attended a vessel in dry dock that was having this kit fitted.
Mr Davies said this was evidence that owners were becoming more aware of these options.
Lloyd’s List recently revealed the Economic Council of West African States has provisionally agreed to allow foreign private maritime security companies to operate in its territorial waters.
However, from his experience in the area, Mr Davies said this move would be “completely irrelevant as the small product tankers that are being targeted will not employ armed guards”.
“The answer here is to cut the revenue stream,” he said.
“Our experience with Anuket Emerald proves armed guards are not the answer. I am bemused why more operators are not fitting this equipment already.”
For more maritime news see Lloyd’s List