Gulf of Guinea Piracy: Open Ocean Ambush Seen As “Game Changer”

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August 11, 2014

An open ocean attack on a product tanker in Gulf of Guinea reminiscent of Somali piracy could represent a significant change for pirates operating off the coast of West Africa, maritime intelligence firm Dryad Maritime warns.

Early on Saturday morning, August 9, a product tanker transiting south approximately 200 miles off the coast of Nigeria detected a pirate mother ship close to its track, before coming under fire by pirates aboard three boats. The attack was repelled by the tanker’s crew, but the range at which this attack took place and tactics employed are more commonly associated with Somali piracy methods than those seen in the Gulf of Guinea, Dryad says.

“The attempted boarding of a vessel underway, especially at night and this far out in open seas, is a tactic more usually associated with highly motivated Somali pirates, and only then on a small number of occasions,” said Ian Millen, Chief Operating Officer of Dryad Maritime. “Whilst we have seen similar attacks on vessels off the Niger Delta up to 160 nautical miles out, these have been crew kidnap incidents. It is unusual to see an attempted hijack of an underway tanker at such ranges from the shore and the numbers of craft involved suggest that this was an attempt at cargo theft. This could be a real game changer for this specific type of crime if repeated; one that would match the strategic shock earlier in the year when a tanker, MT Kerala, was snatched from an anchorage off Angola”.

Dryad’s analysts predict that the incident could signal a step change in terms of both pirate capability and tactics and a development that regional forces would be unlikely to be able to deal with.

Ian adds: “It would be easy to characterise this event as just another statistic in the story of Gulf of Guinea maritime crime, but to do so would be missing one very significant point – the open ocean nature of what looks like an intelligence-led operation. The victim vessel was in transit between a Gulf of Guinea port and a destination further south. If the departure and destination ports were known, and the mother ship had a suitable equipment fit, it is possible that the pirates could sit along the likely route and intercept the vessel whilst underway. With the amount of data shared on maritime movements, it is even conceivable that the ship’s passage plan could have fallen into the wrong hands, making this an even simpler criminal mission”.

As a result of the attack, Dryad says it has issued an immediate advisory to ship operators transiting the area. Dryad added that while the vessel in this instance was well prepared in implementing its anti-piracy drills, the whereabouts of the criminals, skiffs and mother ship are unknown.

Dryad’s full analysis of the attack can be found HERE.

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