Four crewmembers kidnapped by pirates near Cameroon

Nigerian pirates. Credit IMB

The Liberian flagged containership Contship Oak, was attacked by pirates off the coast of Cameroon while at anchorage near the port of Douala in the Gulf of Guinea on 30 March.

Four seafarers were kidnapped and being held by pirates, no others were injured, confirmed the Greek vessel operator Contship. The attack occurred 8 days after a maritime security exercise was carried out in the Gulf of Guinea, led by the US Naval forces in Africa. The exercise, known as Obangame Express 2019, involved the participation of NATO allies as well as 20 west African nations.

Piracy attacks of this kind have increased sharply in west Africa, with an increase from 180 attacks in 2017 to 201 in 2018. The Gulf of Guinea alone was responsible for 130 of 141 hostages held and 78 of 83 of globally kidnapped crew held for ransom.

Cameroon and neighbouring Nigeria have an anti-piracy cooperation agreement in place, however, this has done little to deter the rise of attacks in the region, accounting for all 6 of worldwide hijackings last year. There is also an increase in violence as pirates are more likely to shoot at vessels and escorting security ships.

Emma Mitchell, business director at ASKET, told Safety at Sea, “We have seen a change in tactics in the Gulf of Guinea over the past two years or so, as pirates and criminal gangs have adapted to an increased security posture by the various Navies.”

Mitchell said that pirates are now more likely to siphon “product” over a prolonged ship to ship operation, something that has been seen in the past. The tactics have changed, she said, due to the  improved coordinated response seen by the Nigerian Navy, armed guards and an increase in protection around the ports and fields. This means that the easiest targets for pirates to attack are vessels that are underway or what Mitchell called “softer areas” where their tactics are to swiftly embark a vessel, attempt a robber or, often, try to capture crew for short term kidnap and ransom.

“It is even more likely now that the pirates are operating laterally across the littoral and looking for targets where defences are down and crews are not expecting the same level of threat as they might directly off of Nigeria,” said Mitchell.

ASKET’s message is to treat all areas in this region as high risk, stating that the key to surviving this type of attack is “good planning and rehearsals for the whole crew, all round situational awareness, alert lookouts, radars tuned to pick up smaller targets, BMP5 type measures, control of access and working outside and a secure and equipped citadel for when it is required”.