Pirates Double Gulf of Guinea Attacks, Lured by Tanker Cargoes
Pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea doubled last month as more tankers were hijacked so their stolen oil-product cargoes could be sold on shore, said risk-analysis firm AKE Group Ltd. and a lawyer who acts in piracy cases.
Eight vessels were attacked in February, raising the total to 12 for this year’s first two months, Rory Lamrock, an analyst at AKE, said from London. Pirate activity in the region jumped 42 percent last year as 64 ships were attacked, he said. The gulf, off Africa’s western coast, is bordered by countries including Nigeria, Benin and Cameroon.
“Attacks are rising in frequency, happening further out from shore, and are mostly financially and criminally motivated,” Lamrock said by phone today.
Pirates seize tankers for about two weeks and leave them stationary off the coast, transferring the cargoes to a Nigerian tanker by night, Stephen Askins, a partner at law firm Ince & Co. in London, said this week at a conference in the city. The stolen oil products are sold in Nigeria or the city of Cotonou in Benin, he said.
“They’ve worked out a much better way to get money out of everybody, which is to steal cargo,” Askins said of pirates operating in the gulf. They are “way, way ahead of the Somali pirates,” he said at the conference.
Askins has acted in piracy cases since 2005 and once dropped off a multimillion-dollar ransom payment in London’s Finsbury Park to secure the release of a hijacked vessel. He has direct knowledge of piracy operations after working with the Nigerian government’s economic-crimes unit to track down a stolen oil cargo, finding the local tanker used to carry it, and confronting the vessel’s owner.
Pirates in the gulf have no connection to terrorist gangs that operated around Nigeria’s Bonny River, said Askins, a former Royal Marine. The gulf is a destination for tankers because Nigeria is the biggest African oil producer.
Charterers of ships should share higher costs to protect against pirates off the West African coast, said Dimitris Tsahalis, chartering manager at Athens-based Thenamaris Ships Management Inc., Greece’s fifth-largest shipping company.
“Some owners are not addressing what is happening, as they’re not fully aware of the situation,” Tsahalis said by phone from Athens today. “We want to cover ourselves from any consequences arising from vessels calling at Nigeria, as our vessels are under greater risk than before.”
He also said charter contracts for tankers heading to West Africa should include a version of piracy clauses published in 2009 by the Baltic and International Maritime Council. The council, representing 65 percent of global shipowners, aimed to spell out where responsibility lay in paying for higher costs linked to navigating areas frequented by Somali pirates.
There are about 3,500 Somali pirates attacking vessels off Africa’s eastern coast in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, the United Nations said Feb. 16. Somali pirate attacks rose to a record 237 in 2011 and ransoms worth $160 million were paid to release 31 hijacked vessels, according to a One Earth Future Foundation report released last month.
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