With an increase in the capabilities of pirate groups off the Gulf of Guinea and limited security in the West African seas, piracy risks are likely to grow.
On 16 January, the Nigerian oil tanker MT 'Itri' was hijacked off the port of Abidjan while it was waiting to berth. It was carrying 5,000 tonnes of petroleum product. The vessel was then sailed away from Ivorian territorial waters and was last detected off Ghana.
Since December 2012, there has been a steady increase in the capabilities of pirate groups in the Gulf of Guinea. While the rate of hijacking of tankers has remained relatively constant, pirate groups have extended their operating range further west to Ivorian waters, particularly off the congested port of Abidjan. Over the same period, there has been an increase in attacks on oil supply vessels off the Niger Delta; three oil supply vessels were attacked and two hijacked in December alone.
Due to the very limited capabilities of regional navies including the major player, the Nigerian Navy, and, unlike the seas off Somalia, the lack of an international maritime presence, tankers are vulnerable to oil theft, principally by Nigeria-based organised criminal gangs.
Limited improvements to port security in Nigeria and Togo (including private security guards on vessels at anchor), have resulted in pirate groups moving west into Ivorian waters and targeting vessels waiting to berth at Abidjan.
The recent redeployment of some Joint Task Force units away from the Niger Delta is a likely contributing factor to the increase of attacks and kidnappings targeting offshore supply vessels in December. These risks are likely to increase in the three-month outlook.
Gary Li is Head of Marine and Aviation Forecasting at Exclusive Analysis.