Update: 24 January – We’ve received rumors of a second pirated tanker offshore Angola however, those rumors are unsubstantiated. We spoke with Drewry Maritime Intelligence this morning and they note that “very credible sources indicate those rumors are false.”
Another gCaptain source indicates a body was pulled out of the water in the area, however there were apparently no markings on the lifejacket and this incident may have been unrelated.
There has been no further update to the status of the MT Kerala at this point.
Update: 23 January – In a conversation with Dynacom Tankers Management today, they note that there has been no update the situation and they they still do not have communications with their vessel.
The 75,000 dwt, Liberian-flagged oil tanker Kerala is suspected to have come under attack offshore Luanda, Angola.
We spoke with the operator of the vessel, Dynacom Tankers Management and they note that they have unexpectedly “lost communication” with the vessel on 18 January and the the International Maritime Bureau was notified .
In a phone conversation with Ian Millen, Director of Intelligence at Dryad Maritime Intelligence Service, he did not seem particularly surprised by this 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 notes in an emailed statement that such a development would be a “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 points 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 notes 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 NM 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,” notes Millen. “Operations are primarily targeted at ships in offshore anchorages, sometimes during ship-to-ship cargo transfer ops (STS) with attacks mainly conducted under cover of darkness. The criminals usually disable communications and switch off AIS to avoid being detected, meaning that the first indication that owners have of the hijack is normally when they lose contact with the ship.”
“The best advice we can give Ships’ Masters is to encourage the practice of good information security, thereby denying intelligence to criminal gangs by keeping ships’ movements and intentions known only to trusted agents. Whilst most seafarers in the Gulf of Guinea are very conscious of the threat, ships off Angola would not expect to be attacked. If MT Kerala has sadly fallen prey to pirates, then we might be seeing the criminals taking advantage of this fact.”