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Friday, October 19, 2018


Nigerian pirate attacks hit tankers

What is the difference between terrorism and piracy in the context of maritime security? When you are asked such a question by a key mainstream journalist, who has been revved up by some analyst who is forecasting terrorist hits on shipping during 2005, it makes one think a bit.

It is the difference between an explosive-laden speedboat ramming into the unprotected side of a stationary VLCC, and armed men boarding a tanker from high-speed launches to threaten, rob or even kidnap. One is making a point – usually a political or idealogical point. The other is, in the majority of cases, pure and simple theft. But both show a flagrant disregard for the welfare and safety of the seafarers who operate these ships.

Terrorist acts against merchant shipping have, thankfully, been rare so far. Piracy, however, is an ongoing scourge, but some attacks are more serious than others, with serious physical consequences for officers and/or crew. Last week the Master and Chief Officer of a tug towing a barge through the Malacca Straits were actually kidnapped by gun-carrying pirates, who also stole the vessel’s documents.

Nigeria in particular is showing a high number of reported pirate attacks with incidents nearly tripling last year to 39 compared to just 12 in 2002. That increase comes at a time when overall pirate attacks worldwide also increased, but ‘only’ by 20% from 370 to 445, the second highest figure since the International Maritime Bureau started reporting in 1991 (the highest was 469 in the year 2000).

Last week saw a particularly nasty incident off Lagos, Nigeria. Twelve pirates armed with guns, knives and axes approached a tanker in speedboats in the middle of the night. The second officer caught them in the ship’s searchlight but the men boarded the vessel and rushed onto the bridge. They ordered the second officer not to raise the alarm and then demanded money, threatening the Master with guns and with a knife at his throat. They also threatened the Chief Officer and demanded more money. The pirates stole all the ship's cash and then went through the rest of the accommodation, searching the crews' cabins, and stealing more cash and valuables before making their getaway. The Master received knife wounds on his throat and some crewmembers were assaulted. The whole attack lasted only 15 minutes.

The week before, there was another serious incident at Lagos anchorage where 15 pirates armed with knives and guns boarded a tanker and took the duty seaman hostage. They went to the bridge and took the Master hostage while they threatened and manhandled the crew. Having forced the Master to open the ship’s safe, they stole the ship’s cash and other property belonging to the crew. The Master and third officer received injuries. The attack lasted as long as 45 minutes. When the duty officer called port control he received no response.

Unfortunately we can do little more than advise all ships to maintain anti-piracy watches and report all pirate attacks and suspicious movements of craft to the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Tel + 60 3 2078 5763
Fax + 60 3 2078 5769
Telex MA 31880 IMBPCI
24 Hours Anti Piracy HELPLINE Tel : + 60 3 2031 0014