Gulf of Guinea: An ongoing threat of seafarer kidnap

The Gulf of Guinea proved to be one of the most dangerous piracy hotpots for mariners, according to maritime intelligence agency Dryad’s maritime crime figures for Quarter 1 (January to March) of 2015.

Namely, kidnapping of crew for ransom remains the most significant threat to mariners in the region. In March 2015, eight crew were taken in three separate incidents off the shores of Rivers and Akwa Ibom States in Nigeria. Three mariners have since been released from captivity after being taken from MT Kalamos on 03 March. A crewmember died by gunfire during the incident. Another five crew were kidnapped in attacks against support vessel MV Maridive 603 and floating storage tanker MT Yoho, Dryad informed.

There have been no reported kidnappings off Bayelsa State, Nigeria in the first quarter of this year, a historical hotbed for such crime. MV Jascon 24 was attacked in late January in this area; a Nigerian naval rating was shot and killed during that incident, which was almost certainly another attempt at taking crew for ransom. The threat of kidnap in both regions of Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom’s offshore waters remains, and further attacks are likely, Dryad said.



There has been a single incident of cargo theft thus far in the Gulf of Guinea this year when maritime criminals took a small product tanker MT Mariam off the coast of Warri on 11 January. The Ghanaian Navy eventually detained the vessel on 17 January and eight armed pirates were arrested. The threat to product tankers of hijacking and theft of their cargo remains.

A further incident of note was when bulk carrier MV Ocean Splendor was fired upon and boarded by eight armed pirates over 150 NM south east of Accra, Ghana on 14 Jan. Some of the crew were assaulted as the gang ransacked the ship. Dryad believes that, given the number of pirates involved and the range at which this incident took place, it is highly probable that the gang’s initial motive for being in the area had been to target product tankers for cargo theft, with the absence of a suitable target leading to an opportunistic attack on Ocean Splendor.

Two weeks after the above incident, a large fishing vessel was hijacked 30 NM south of Takoradi, Ghana for just such a purpose. The gang had intended to use the vessel as a mother ship from which to launch attacks against tankers, but having been pursued by maritime security vessels, they left the ship. One of the crew tragically drowned as he made his escape from the gang.

Overall, 18 incidents have been confirmed in the Gulf of Guinea reported in Q1 2015 compared with 22 in Q1 2014

“Presidential elections held in Nigeria during the final week of March resulted in defeat for Goodluck Johnathan. Muhammadu Buhari is now tasked with fixing the economy, defeating Boko Haram, and also overcoming the corruption that is rife at all levels of authority within the country. We are unlikely to see any immediate relief in the maritime domain as the new president gets to grips with significant political and security challenges on land,” Dryad added.

There were no confirmed incidents in the Indian Ocean HRA.

Q1 has seen a rise in the number of reported incidents in South America and the Caribbean with 13 reported incidents. Maritime crime has been reported in the waters of Columbia, Venezuela, Honduras, Brazil and throughout the Caribbean.

Two of these incidents were boardings and robberies from MVs at anchor in Cartagena, Columbia. The remainder were robberies from sailing and pleasure craft. Instances of petty theft from MVs around the area are reported regularly, but not in the numbers seen in Southeast Asia.

The present economic decline in Venezuela could lead to a rise in criminal activity around the coastline. Theft from yachts and small pleasure craft, although known to happen regularly, are seldom reported on international databases.

“However, so far in 2015 we have seen a marked increase in reporting mainly from yachting websites, many of these incidents involve the use of violence. Dryad has no evidence to suggest that crime in Latin America and the Caribbean will develop in the near future to more frequent attacks on larger vessels. If it did, it would most likely resemble the majority of low-level incidents seen in Southeast Asia, rather than the more serious kidnap or hijack seen in the Gulf of Guinea or Indian Ocean,” the maritime intelligence agency said.

Dryad reported a reduction from the high number of incidents in South East Asia from 75 in Q4 2014 to 56 in Q1 2015. Although the total number of incidents are down by 36% when compared to the last quarter of 2014, there has been a continuation of attacks against vessels underway in the Singapore Strait, Dryad said.

Speaking of the Mediterranean, the ongoing humanitarian crisis is having an effect on normal shipping trading operations in the region, as more migrants from Libya venture into the seas amid extremely unstable political and military situation in the country.

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