Gulf of Guinea crew kidnaps surge

MARCH 7, 2014 — Poole, U.K., headquartered Dryad Maritime Intelligence says that it recently issued a special advisory warning all of its shipping clients on the increased threat of crew kidnap in the Gulf of Guinea. Since it issued that warning, two further attacks on vessels have taken place within a single week with two Nigerian-flagged vessels being targeted by maritime criminals on consecutive days, resulting in the kidnap of six crew members.

On March 4, MV Prince Joseph 1 was attacked offshore Akwa Ibom state, closely followed by an attack on the offshore tug, MV Asha Deep, a day later off Bayelsa state; a particular hotspot for recent incidents.

These most recent attacks make this the largest surge over a three month period since Dryad's records began with eight vessels attacked and 20 crew members kidnapped. In this short period, criminal gangs have operated across a wide area, from the seas off Nigeria to those off Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea. At the time of writing it is assessed that 12 crew members remain in captivity.

Ian Millen, Dryad Maritime's Director of Intelligence says: "The two incidents this week point to the operation of at least two separate criminal gangs, using the cover of estuaries and the riverine system of the Niger Delta to take their victims into captivity. If recent patterns are followed, it is likely that the latest attacks will have targeted senior crew, such as the Master and Chief Engineer, as these are the most likely to attract higher value ransom payments, often due to the fact that a large number will be non-Nigerian. This is based on previous intelligence which has seen such crew being singled out, especially ships' Captains and Chief engineers."

Pirates have also struck beyond the shores of Nigeria in the last three months with kidnaps of crew members from vessels in the seas off Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea. In addition to this, Dryad assesses that a number of other unsuccessful attacks have probably been aimed at kidnap. In one probable attempt last year, a vessel was targeted some 160 nautical miles out to sea.

"Whilst the kidnap of the U.S .Captain and Chief Engineer of the support vessel MV C Retriever in October 2013 received a high level of media coverage," says Mr.Millen, "the same cannot be said for those kidnapped since. Consequently, the true level of this type of maritime crime is not well understood. Shipowners whose crews are targeted are understandably tight-lipped during sensitive ransom negotiations, but their silence after the event does little to warn other seafarers of this threat or help others to understand the true scale of the problem."

"When it comes to mitigating the diverse range of threats in the Gulf of Guinea, including kidnap, one size does not fit all," says Mr. Millen. "The key to success lies in finding the right mix of measures for the individual ship and its operating environment. Monitoring ships and actively diverting them away from known and emerging threats is our daily business, but there is much that vessels can do to help themselves, from remaining alert and observing best practice to having well drilled crews who understand what to do and how to call for assistance in the event of danger. The instances of unsuccessful attack that we have seen, have almost invariably been where ships have been aware of the threat and have taken action to avoid being boarded."