Energy Centurion Hijacking Underscores West African Piracy Threat [UPDATE]

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August 29, 2012

The 74,998 dwt ENERGY CENTURION. Image via Enterprises Shipping and Trading

Update: The Energy Centurion has been located off the coast of Nigeria still under control of pirates.

“The vessel is presently sailing off the coast of Nigeria under the control of pirates who have the intention to steal the cargo,” Golden Energy Management, the ship’s operator, said in a statement.

The crew are believed to be in good health and unharmed. Meanwhile a French naval ship was nearby, the statement added.

(Bloomberg) — Pirates seized a tanker in the Gulf of Guinea carrying a cargo of gasoil worth $54 million, the second hijacking of a vessel in the region in nine days.

The Energy Centurion, which sails under the flag of the Isle of Man, is missing after the pirates exchanged gunfire with Togo’s navy, according to Athens-based vessel operator Enterprises Shipping & Trading S.A. No contact has been made with the ship since a distress call was received yesterday at 7:30 a.m. London time, a spokesman said by phone today, remaining anonymous in line with company policy.

The Panamax tanker was seized while storing its 56,000 metric-ton cargo at anchor about nine miles from Togo’s capital of Lome, the spokesman said. The ship may have been targeted by the same pirates who hijacked a smaller vessel on Aug. 19 and stole its gasoil cargo, said Richard Mcenery, chief operations officer at security company Ocean Protection Services.

“It’s just too much of a coincidence,” he said by phone from London today.

The Energy Centurion’s hijacking was confirmed by a spokesman in London for the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office who remained anonymous in line with the department’s policy. The cargo’s value is based on a gasoil price of $964.50 a ton in northwest Europe, excluding freight costs.

The hijackings underscore an emerging threat off Nigeria that may trigger piracy activity on levels seen off Somalia, Maritime UK, a shipping industry body whose members contribute 26.5 billion pounds ($42 billion) to the U.K. economy, said in an e-mailed statement today.

Pursuit, Evasion

The tanker was pursued by the Togolese navy and evaded capture by entering waters off Benin that were outside naval jurisdiction, the Enterprises Shipping spokesman said, citing a conversation yesterday with an official in the African nation.

While pirates based in Somalia typically aim to hold vessels and crews for ransom, those operating in the gulf tend to attack vessels to steal their cargoes, according to Mcenery of Ocean Protection Services. Ships hijacked in the gulf usually are released after about a week, he said. The waters also border Nigeria, the biggest African oil exporter.

Twenty-one pirate attacks were reported in the gulf in the year to Aug. 23, compared with 20 for all of 2011, the website and annual report of the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre. Attacks in the area are probably underreported, the organization said in the report.

-By Michelle Wiese Bockmann. Copyright 2012 Bloomberg

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