Piracy in West African waters is on the rise, warns the London P&I Club’s correspondent in Benin. Most attacks occur while ships are at anchor or close to the shore, unlike East Africa, where Somali pirates have netted millions of dollars in ransoms in exchange for the release of ships captured hundreds of miles from the coast.
The IMB Piracy Reporting Centre has previously highlighted the risk to shipping in Tema, Ghana, and in the Lagos and Bonny River areas of Nigeria. It states that pirates have attacked and robbed vessels and kidnapped crews along the coast and rivers, anchorages, ports and surrounding waters.
In response, the Nigerian Authorities have forbidden bunkering offshore, unless such operations are secured by soldiers provided by the Government, subject to formal authorisation and payment of the costs involved. Such measures are believed to have resulted in pirates travelling further afield and into foreign territories to capture vessels. Unfortunately, piracy is now occurring offshore Benin. A crew member has been killed in one such attack. Moreover, recent attacks suggest that some better organised and resourced pirates are targeting valuable refined oil cargoes. Since the turn of the year it is understood that three tankers have been captured for this purpose. In each case the vessel and crew were released several days later, but only after the pirates had forced the crew to pump cargo to craft brought alongside. Further, the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre now notes Benin as an area of increasing attacks in their Piracy Prone Area List.
It should also be noted that the Benin authorities lack the resources available to the Nigerian Navy, and that appeals for assistance whilst under attack in Benin waters may therefore go unanswered. In the meantime, vigilance against hijacking and kidnap should be practised in all areas where pirate activity is suspected.