Pirate Kidnappings Surge in the Gulf of Guinea

esther c carisbrooke
Three sailors from the Esther C were kidnapped by Nigerian pirates in February 2013, and subsequently released under undisclosed terms. Image via peter.beentjes

July 15 (Bloomberg) — Kidnappings of sailors on merchant ships in waters off Nigeria and nearby countries surged in the first half as pirates attacked a broader range of vessels and sought targets farther out at sea.

Pirates operating in the Gulf of Guinea kidnapped 30 crew in the period, compared with three seized worldwide in the first six months of 2012, the International Maritime Bureau, a London- based group tracking sea crime, said in a report today. Attackers previously tended to seek out ships involved in the regional oil industry , but are now targeting container ships and other merchant vessels, it said.

The increase poses a new threat to trade at a time when naval forces, armed guards and better on-board security are quelling attacks off Africa’s eastern coast. Incidents involving Somali pirates plunged to eight in the first half of the year, down sharply from 69 a year earlier. West and central African leaders recently signed a code of conduct to repress attacks and that should soon start curbing incidents in the Gulf of Guinea, the IMB said.

“If these attacks are left unchecked, they will become more frequent, bolder and more violent,” IMB director Pottengal Mukundan said in the report. “Cooperation and capacity-building among the coastal states in this region is the way forward and urgently needed to make these waters safe for seafarers and vessels.”

Gulf of Guinea pirates are increasingly using vessels as mother ships from which to launch their attacks, allowing them to search for targets farther out at sea, the IMB said. Total pirate attacks worldwide fell to 138 in the half from 177 a year earlier, the report showed.

The code of conduct was signed last month by representatives from 22 nations including Angola, Liberia and Senegal, according to a statement dated June 26 on the website of the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization.

– Alaric Nightingale, Copyright 2013 Bloomberg.