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The West African coast is increasingly becoming a dangerous route for commercial shipping as a report has shown that the area accounts for over 90 per cent of global maritime kidnappings.
77 seafarers were kidnapped for ransom between January and June 2020, majority of them in the Gulf of Guinea off West Africa.
According to the ICC International Maritime Bureau’s latest piracy report, attacks on commercial ships and kidnapping of crew members have been on the rise in recent times in the region. Hijackings on the other hand have been at their lowest since 1993.
The report shows that piracy and armed robbery have also increased in the second quarter of 2020, rising to 98 up from the 78 recorded in the same period in 2019.
IMB’s Director, Michael Howlett says it has become common for ship crews to be attacked by bandits armed with knives and guns.
“We need to change the risk-to-reward ratio for pirates operating within the Gulf of Guinea. Without an appropriate and proportionate deterrent, pirates and robbers will get more ruthless and more ambitious, increasing the risk to seafarers,” Howlett says.
The IMB says this period is particularly stressful for seafarers as many of them are working beyond their contractual periods due to COVID-19 restrictions on crew rotations and international travel. Adding to that is the threat of piracy which worsens the hardships faced by hundreds of thousands of seafarers.
In the last three months alone, 32 crew were kidnapped in the Gulf of Guinea.
The IMB says two-thirds of the vessels were attacked on the high seas from around 20 to 130 nautical miles off the Gulf of Guinea coastline.
According to the IMB, the Nigerian Navy has been instrumental in combatting the incidents of hijacking and piracy in the coastline.
In one recent case commended by IMB, the Nigerian Navy responded promptly to a distress call from a fishing vessel boarded and hijacked by armed assailants in Ivory Coast waters. As a result, the crew were saved and the ship was prevented from being used as a possible mother vessel to carry out further attacks.
In another incident, a product tanker was attacked while underway around 127 nautical miles off Bayelsa, in southern coast of Nigeria. Eight armed pirates kidnapped ten crew as well as stealing cash, personal valuables, and ship’s property. IMB PRC contacted regional and international authorities, and a Nigerian Navy Security Vessel was dispatched. A nearby sister vessel helped the four remaining crew members to sail the tanker to a safe port. The kidnapped crew were released three weeks later.