IMB Piracy Reporting Center's Live Piracy Map for West Africa in 2012. Click for interactive map.

In response to the escalating number of pirate attacks off the coast of West Africa, the International Bargaining Forum (IBF) – the body involving the International Transport Workers’ Federation and maritime employers – has formally designated the territorial waters of Benin and Nigeria as a piracy “High Risk Area”, and not a moment too soon if you ask seafarers who frequent the area.

Specifically, the designation of the new High Risk Area has been given to territorial waters within 12 nautical miles off the coastline of Nigeria and Benin, including inland waterways and, with some restrictions, port areas and anchorages beginning April 1, 2012.

“The increase in the number of attacks and the violent tactics of hostage taking applied by armed gangs have been found disturbing, particularly in the waters and ports of Nigeria and Benin,” states the IBF. “The necessity of an adequate response to the situation has become clear in an effort to bring greater security and guarantees to seafarers serving on IBF ships in the area.”

So what exactly does this mean for seafarers in the area?  

Similar to the established “High Risk” designation already in place for areas off Somalia’s east coast, the designation provides seafarers working in the area the right to refuse to enter it and with repatriation at company’s cost; a bonus equal to basic wage, payable for the actual duration of the stay or transit; doubled compensations for the case of death and disability; and increased security requirements.

While the designation is a good start, seafarers that frequent the area are only mildly satisfied considering most attacks occur well outside the 12nm zone.

Speaking to “Mike”, the captain of a Swedish handy size tanker bound for Lagos, Nigeria (whose full name we cannot disclose due to the confidential nature of his duties), he explains some potential holes in this new rule:

The difference between here and Somalia is that in Somalia you only pass at full speed.  Here in west Africa, when we arrive at Lagos with a full cargo, we sometimes have to wait 6-8 weeks before we are allowed to enter port to discharge.  Due to the risk of pirates, our charterer does not allow us to drop anchor so it means we have to drift a “safe distance” offshore for many weeks.  My personal record is 8 weeks drifting and during this time we noted 5 attacks in our surroundings.

I was first happy to receive this news from the ITF but when I read through I understand what they define as high risk area only consists of the ports and 12 nm offshore and therefore this is totally worthless!  How often do you read about attacks in a port or on the anchorage? Almost never! On Lagos anchorage you can at least get some protection from the local navy.

Basically with this rule no charterer will allow anchoring anymore within the zone.  Better/cheaper for them to let the vessels drift outside of 12nm / High risk area where they will be exposed for pirate attacks.

For more information you can download the IBF’s updated list of of warlike and high risk designations.

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