Nigerian pirates are suspected to have hijacked 75,000 dwt, Liberian-flagged oil tanker, MT Kerala offshore Luanda, Angola.
Operator of the vessel, Dynacom Tankers Management, said that it unexpectedly “lost communication” with the vessel stating that the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) has been notified.
The ship operator did not say specifically when communication was lost, however, sources indicate that this must have happened on 17 January while the Automatic Identification System (AIS) signal was lost on the 18th.
Director of Intelligence at Dryad Maritime Intelligence Service, Ian Millen, said he did not seem particularly surprised by the possible incident and said that this could very well be related of a number of suspicious activities which have been observed in the area recently.
If confirmed as a hijack, Millen noted in an emailed statement that such a development would be “a worrying development in West African maritime crime.”
“We have been watching Nigerian based pirates launch an increasing number of attacks on vessels in areas not normally associated with piracy of late. If substantiated, this latest incident demonstrates a significant extension of the reach of criminal groups and represents a threat to shipping in areas that were thought to be safe.
“This would be the furthest south that Nigerian-based criminals had struck for the purposes of refined product cargo theft,” added Millen.
Millen also pointed out that an unfortunate coincidence may also be at play considering Dynacom Tankers also managed MT Smyrni, which was the last vessel to be released by Somali pirates in 2013.
Dryad Maritime Intelligence notes in their emailed statement that prior to the loss of communication with MT Kerala, they had been tracking a suspect tug operating off the Angolan coast and had subsequently alerted their clients in the region.
The suspect vessel was originally thought to be operating in the waters to the east of Sao Tome before heading south toward the coast of Angola. The vessel was last sighted in a restricted area offshore Angola on 17th January, reportedly close to the anchored position of MT Kerala, seven nautical miles NNW of Luanda.
Like most maritime crime incidents in the Gulf of Guinea, it’s quite likely that if the MT Kerala was attacked, it was motivated by the well-developed fuel theft trade.
Dryad noted that already in January 2014 the tanker MT Super League, was boarded 55 nautical miles off the coast of Equatorial Guinea’s border with Gabon, and then followed by the hijacking and kidnapping of three crew members from cargo vessel MV San Miguel just 20 nautical miles off the coast of Bata, Equatorial Guinea.
“The criminal gangs that conduct this particular brand of intelligence-led maritime crime are well-prepared, well-armed and have specialist maritime knowledge and expertise,” Millen noted.
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