A Closer Look at Maritime Incidents This Week
The Gulf of Guinea’s shifting piracy trends

The Gulf of Guinea (GoG) is currently seeing a shift in piracy trends, while maritime hijackings are down, the total incident numbers are up. The majority of the incidents in the GoG have been reported around Nigeria; however, there has also been a noticeable increase in boardings at the Takoradi anchorage in Ghana.

A vital statistic for the area is that 37 of the 39 crew kidnappings for ransom globally have occurred in the GoG region; in seven separate incidents. Of these, 29 of them occurred in four separate incidents off Nigeria – this includes the kidnapping of 12 crewmembers in September form a Swiss-flagged bulk carrier off Bonny Island, Nigeria. The crew members were later released (in October) after a ransom was most likely paid.

The region is currently seeing the highest concentration of pirate activity as in other areas of the world, incidents of piracy and armed robbery are comparatively rare. The coast of Somalia is now well police with the last attack occurring in October and resulting in the security team onboard successfully repelling the attackers. South-East Asia has seen a number of attacks on fisherman by Abu Sayyaf militants; however, at this time, militants have not attempted to attack larger vessels. While, finally, South America is seeing opportunistic theft from vessels at anchor.

Nevertheless, the risk of piracy remains high in certain areas. The Nigerian Navy actively responds and dispatches patrol boats when incidents have been reported promptly; highlighting the importance of crews reporting incidents in a timely manner.

As reported in the Maritime Monthly, the Nigerian economy has lost at least over US$2.5 Billion as a result of piracy. The country’s Senate has negotiated eight maritime bills in three years in am an attempt to tackle the issue. It is hoped that the country’s navy, and those of surrounding countries, can copy the success that foreign navies have had in the Indian Ocean (see below) when it comes to tackling the current threat.

BBC report on the success of how foreign navies have curbed piracy off Somalia’s coast

The BBC’s Anne Soy has written about how foreign navies have managed to successfully curb piracy off the Somali coast. In the article, Foy highlights the role the  European Union Naval Force (EUNavfor) has played in tackling the risk of piracy in the area.  However, the article fails to mention the critical role that the industry has played in providing armed security onboard vessels as well as the implementation of BMP measures. To read more:

Abu Sayyaf linked to two attacks while Malaysian counter-terror police make seven arrests

There have been numerous incidents involving the designated terrorist group Abu Sayyaf in the past week. On 5 December, the crew of an Indonesian tugboat successfully repelled four armed attackers near Pegasus Reef, Sabah, Malaysia. It was reported that the attack was successfully repelled by the tub crew using a flare gun to fire at the militants.

Separately, on the same day, an Indonesian fisherman who had been captured in September in the same area was freed. According to sources in the Philippines, the country’s military were involved in the release of the abducted fisherman.

Also on the 5 December, a vessel, believed to be a fishing vessel, was attacked by what is believed to be as many as 20 armed men. The attackers, also reportedly part of the Abu Sayyaf group, are understood to have abducted three fishermen.

Malaysian counter-terrorism police also reported that they arrested seven terror suspects, including a member of Abu Sayyaf. Those arrested had reportedly been involved in three kidnappings in the southern Philippines and Sabah, Malaysia. The operations were conducted last month and also reportedly resulted in the detention of two Islamic State (IS) linked extremists.

Finally, a soldier was killed on 7 December following a gun battle that lasted for 30 minutes. The firefight occurred at dusk in Barangay Bungkaong, Patikul, Sulu, between elements of the Philippines Army’s 21st Infantry Battalion and around 30 Abu Sayyaf militants.  At least one other soldier was killed in the firefight.

The incidents demonstrate the threat presented by the group in the region and while at this stage the group has only targeted fishing vessels and small tugboats, the threat to larger international shipping remains. Extra vigilance should be carried out if transiting waters off Eastern Sabah and Sulu-Celebes Seas. The group are especially interested in businessmen or crew from foreign vessels passing through the area.