VLCC Attack Underscores Piracy Problem Off Nigeria

Nave Constellation
File photo of the Nave Constellation (former Shinyo Saowalak). Photo: MarineTraffic.com/

By Olivia Konotey-Ahulu (Bloomberg) — The boarding by pirates of a supertanker near Nigeria has highlighted a worrying trend for vessels to be attacked off the coast of Africa’s biggest oil producer.

Nineteen crew were kidnapped when pirates hijacked the fully loaded ship Nave Constellation on Tuesday night. They remain missing. The remaining seven people who were still on board were able to sail the vessel to a safe location.

“The issue in the Gulf of Guinea has been an unreported hot spot of concern for quite some time,” said Stuart Neil, a spokesman for the International Chamber of Shipping, a trade association ultimately representing operators of 80% of the world’s ships. The incident has brought attention to an ongoing issue and is “emblematic of shipping being seen as a target.”

As a region, the Gulf of Guinea accounts for almost 82% of crew kidnappings globally, according to data from the International Maritime Bureau, a piracy watchdog. Out of 95 attacks worldwide where hijackers boarded the vessel in the first nine months of 2019, 17 took place in Nigerian waters.

The incident represents the largest kidnapping incident this year, Munro Anderson, a partner at Dryad Global, a maritime security firm.

“It’s very difficult to sum up the problems of West African piracy,” he said, adding that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for Nigeria to coordinate its security responses. “It’s almost death by a thousand cuts.”

Nigerian forces have so far made no contact with the pirates who took the crew hostage, said Dakuku Peterside, director-general of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency.

“We’re doing everything humanly possible to rescue the abducted crew members,” he said. “It is very unfortunate, very sad that this is happening at the time we’re devoting a lot of efforts in making our waterways safe.”

The ship in question, a so-called very large crude carrier, is owned by Navios Maritime Acquisition Corp. The company’s “primary concern” is the safe and swift return of the missing crew members, a spokeswoman for the company said.

“It’s yet another example of the security threat of Nigeria and the problem that shipowners are faced with when operating in the area,” said Jakob Larsen, head of maritime security at BIMCO, a Denmark-based group representing shipowners.

–With assistance from Ruth Olurounbi.

© 2019 Bloomberg L.P