10 May 2017

Nigeria Remains Hotspot As Pirates Kidnap 58 Seafarers

As the global shipping sector grapples with the activities of pirates on the seaways, the latest ICC International Maritime Bureau's (IMB) report showed that about 43 ships and 58 seafarers were captured in the first quarter (Q1) 2017.

The global report highlights persisting violence and piracy hotspots off Nigeria, and around the Southern Philippines, where two crew members were killed in February.

This comes as the Nigerian government approved $186 million (about N56.9 billion) to procure machinery to fully combat maritime crimes.

The Fund is meant to acquire three new ready-for-war ships, three aircrafts, 12 vessels and 20 amphibious vehicles to combat the menace of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.

Indonesia also reported frequent incidents, mostly low-level thefts from anchored vessels.

"In total, 33 vessels were boarded and four fired upon in the first three months of 2017. Armed pirates hijacked two vessels, both off the coast of Somalia, where no merchant ship had been hijacked since May 2012. Four attempted incidents were also received," IMB said.

According to the IMB's report, there are three major concerns, which include the Gulf of Guinea kidnappings; growing violence around the Southern Philippines and Indonesia attacks.

"Of the 27 seafarers kidnapped worldwide for ransom between January and March 2017, 63 per cent were in the Gulf of Guinea. Nigeria is the main kidnap hotspotwith 17 crew taken in three separate incidents, up from 14 in the same period last year.

"All three vessels - a general cargo ship, a tanker and a bulk carrier were attacked while underway 30-60 nautical miles off the Bayelsa coast. Three more ships were fired upon at up to 110 nautical miles from land, and many other attacks are believed to go unreported," it stated.

Director of IMB, Pottengal Mukundan, said: "The Gulf of Guinea is a major area of concern, consistently dangerous for seafarers, and signs of kidnappings increasing. IMB has worked closely with the response agencies in the region including the Nigerian Navy, which has provided valuable support, but more needs to be done to crack down on the area's armed gangs. We urge vessels to report all incidents so that the true level of piracy activity can be assessed."

Meanwhile, nine ships reported attacks in Q1 2017 in the Southern Philippines compared with just two in the same period last year.

The Minister for Transportation, Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi had said: "The government is working on piracy. The president has approved an architecture plan of about $886 million dollars to acquire three helicopters, three aircrafts, three big ships ready for war, 12 vessels, and 20 amphibious cars. In the next three months you will see them operating, so by the time we finish, you see that the change is coming. Change is not talk about, it is felt, so you should give us time to fix it."

On the growing violence around the Southern Philippines, the IMB said nine ships reported attacks in the first quarter of 2017 in the region compared with just two in the same period last year. These include an armed attack on a general cargo vessel in which two crew were killed and five kidnapped for ransom. Kidnappers captured five more people in attacks on a fishing trawler and a tug.

According to IMB, militant activity may be behind the escalating violence in waters around the Southern Philippines. Armed groups use speedboats to target seafarers and fishermen in slow-moving, low vessels.

"Areas such as the Sulu Sea and Sibutu Passage are particularly risky. IMB recommends that ships avoid these waters by transiting West of Kalimantan, if possible and, as ever, follow the industry's latest best practice measures, to protect against attacks," it stated.

Somali pirates successfully hijacked a small bunkering tanker and a traditional dhow, both within their territorial waters. A total of 28 crew were taken hostage and subsequently released within a relatively short time.


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