Armed guards for ships at anchorage in Douala

View of the port of Douala. Credit: REINNIER KAZE/AFP/Getty Images

The port authority at Douala in Cameroon will be providing armed guards to vessels at anchorage at its Base Buoy (B9) pilot station following a spate of pirate attacks at the river port.

An information notice issued in late August said that the service is free of charge and will continue indefinitely. Three armed forces guards will remain aboard a vessel for the entire time it is at anchorage, and they will only leave once the vessel has berthed. According to P&I Club local correspondent, BUDD Group, the congestion at the berths means that vessels may stay at anchorage for as long as two to three weeks.

“The new arrangement will limit the administrative delays that arise when completing an application for government armed guards on board. In the past, the presence of armed guards on board had to be authorised by the Ministry of Defence and the Presidency of the Republic. Ships that needed the presence of armed guards on board were obliged to authorise their agent to complete the formalities. The process was slow and vessels rarely had the time to complete it,” BUDD Group said.

There have been three cases of piracy at Douala since March 2019, all of which have involved kidnapping crew members, according to the International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB’s) Piracy Reporting Centre. BUDD Group believes the attacks were carried out by Nigerian gangs.

In the latest attack, 8 of the 12 crew members aboard MC Schiffahrt’s general cargo vessel, MarMalaita were abducted by pirates. The shipping line secured the crew’s release nearly six weeks after the attack following negotiations with the kidnappers. The crew members arrived at Frankfurt airport on 22 September, its website stated.

Besides these three attacks on ships at anchorage, the Gulf of Guinea off the West African coast has become the new piracy hot spot. The IMB reports that the region accounted for all of the worldwide crew kidnappings in the first quarter of 2019. In five separate incidents, 21 members were reported kidnapped.