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Pirates sighted in Ghana’s territorial waters ...attacks on ships increase in Gulf of Guinea

By: Kester Aburam Korankye
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Pirates are always a threat to business
Pirates are always a threat to business

Merchant vessels transiting the country’s coast have been cautioned to shore up their defence against forced boarding.

The warning comes in the wake of increased activities of pirates off the coast of Ghana.

For instance, a merchant ship was seen surrounded by three speedboats filled with armed pirates off the coast of Takoradi on March 8, this year.

A report sent to the Maritime Domain Awareness For Trade – Gulf of Guinea (MDAT-GoG) via email on March 8 this year said, “ at 1700 UTC a merchant vessel was approached by three speedboats, in position 03°55N 001°14E 155°/65NM from Takoradi, Ghana”.

The report further indicated that “occupants of the speed boats were wearing camouflage clothing and carrying weapons.”

Consequently, the MDAT-GoG advised vessels transiting the country’s coast to exercise extreme caution to avoid any attacks from the pirates.

Piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea has become an established criminal activity and is of increasing concern to the maritime sector with recent attacks becoming more widespread and violent.

A report by the International Bureau on Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships suggests that there were 11 separate pirate attacks between 2013 and 2017 off the country’s coast.

Although the number of pirate attacks off Ghana’s coast may not be alarming compared to other countries along the Gulf of Guinea, an expert in the maritime industry, Dr Kofi Mbia, in an interview with the GRAPHIC BUSINESS on March 15 said “we need to improve upon our surveillance and get the Ghana Navy to increase their patrol. You know the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) patrols the anchorage area of our ports and a lot of ships that want a safe haven come to our anchorage to get protection for some time but now that the spate of piracy has increased and their activities recorded on our coast, there is a need to increase the surveillance.”

Effects of pirate activities on trade
Dr Mbia stated that the surge in pirate activities could have a wrong impact on commercial trading in the shipping industry as it would affect the climate of confidence in trade and influence the rise in insurance premiums.  

“When your coast is infested with pirates then there is the tendency for insurance premiums to go up for vessels that are calling at your port because of the threat to the vessels and at the same time it affects the climate of confidence in trade. Vessels must be able to move freely and navigate to and out of the port but whenever there are increase pirate attacks, there is the tendency for some vessels not to call on some particular ports because of fear of attack so indeed it affects commercial trading,” he said.

Rising pirate attacks in GoG
In January this year, the government of Luxembourg reported that the product tanker ST Marseille was attacked by five armed pirates at an anchorage off Cotonou, Benin. The pirates succeeded in boarding the vessel, and two Beninese guards sustained gunshot wounds in an exchange.

The ST Marseille had no cargo on board at the time of the attack and the pirates eventually gave up and departed. The crew were unharmed and were all accounted for. Both guards have received medical attention and are in stable condition. The ST Marseille is a Luxembourg-flagged tanker operated by French firm ST Management SAS.

In a similar fashion, on January 10, the product tanker MT Barrett went missing from an anchorage off Benin and was not heard from for two days. It had been hijacked and the vessel’s crew held hostage, hence the pirates contacted the shipowner to make arrangements for their return on January 12. After several days of negotiations, they were released unharmed, and the Barrett was allowed to go on its way.

 Again on February 1, the tanker Marine Express and its 22 crew members went missing from an anchorage off Cotonou. The vessel was held for several days and released unharmed.

Niger Delta terror deepens
Although Cotonou's anchorage attacks by pirates are relatively new, according to the International Maritime Bureau Piracy Statistics ( IMB IC) 2017 report, attacks off the Niger Delta continued unabated.

In February alone, there were three separate attacks by pirates in the Niger Delta region. On February 24, eight armed pirates in a speedboat pursued a container ship 50 nm south of Bonny Island, Nigeria. Thanks to vessel hardening, they were not able to hook on a boarding ladder, and they abandoned the attempt.

On the same day, about 40 nm off the Bonny fairway buoy, ten pirates in a speedboat opened fire on a reefer underway. Embarked guards returned fire and the attackers abandoned the attempt.

On February 18, about 40 nm off Brass, seven pirates in a speedboat opened fire on a tanker underway. Due to vessel hardening they were not able to board, and they broke off the attempt.