December piracy update
African waters remain the most dangerous for Middle East crews and vessels to negotiate, with several armed attacks confirmed this week in the coastal waters of Nigeria, and thefts in Tanzania's Dar es Salaam littoral zone.
Increased livestock trade in preparation for the Eid ul-Adha festival may bring renewed violence to the region's mariners as the frequency of trips from African ports increases.
Earlier this week two pirates armed with guns and knives boarded a bulk carrier drifting at Nigeria's Lagos anchorage. The pirates tied up the watchmen. Another crew member witnessed the pirates boarding and ran into the accommodation and locked all entrance doors. Once the alarm was raised the crew were mustered. The pirates immediately jumped overboard and fled in a waiting wooden motor boat. Fortunately both watchmen escaped with light injuries.
In a further attack twelve armed robbers dressed in military fatigues approached a tanker at anchor. Nine pirates boarded the vessel and ordered the master to disembark into their boat. The master refused and escaped towards the accommodation. The attackers opened fire on the master, who luckily managed to escape unhurt. While searching and looting the accommodation, the robbers took the 2nd Officer and two further crew hostage. The hostages release was negotiated in exchange for cash and cigarettes.
On Sunday, during a pre-dawn raid on a container ship in Tanzania, several pirates boarded unnoticed. They broke padlocks, removed container-lashing bars and stole the ship's stores and cargo. On carrying out a search only footprints were noticed.
Mariners are being warned by the International Maritime Bureau's Piracy Reporting Centre to be extra cautious and to take necessary precautionary measures when transiting Gulf and Red Sea waters.
Specifically, the IMB's weekly alert warns that pirates in the Lagos area and anchorage are violent and are liable to attack, rob or kidnap crews. In Kenya's port of Mombassa container ships are being regularly targeted.
In the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea a number of suspicious craft reports have been received. These craft either set a collision course, or pursue transiting ships. Mariners are advised to be cautious. In the past, some vessels have been fired upon.
The starkest warning remains for the lawless waters off of Somalia. The IMB Piracy Reporting Centre has received 26 actual and attempted attacks so far this year. Many more attacks may have gone unreported. Some pirates are dangerous and have fired automatic weapons at ships to stop them.
Occasionally, attackers have even used RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade) launchers at ships. Pirates are believed to be using "mother vessels" to launch attacks at very far distance from coast. This "mother vessel" is able to proceed to very far out to sea to launch smaller boats to attack and hijack passing ships.
Somalia's Eastern and Northeastern coasts are high-risk areas for attacks and hijackings. Vessels not making scheduled calls to ports in Somalia should keep as far away as possible from the Somali coast, ideally more than 200 nautical miles.