Arete analysts have noted an increase in criminal activity in the maritime environment in the last five weeks. This spike in incident rates has also been noted by the International Maritime Bureau. Most of the incidents have occurred inside territorial waters of littoral states from Sierra Leone in the west to Cameroon in the east. 2 of the incidents resulted in multiple victim abductions – 1 each in Nigerian and Cameroonian waters, and a third in the hijacking of a fishing vessel in Sierra Leonean waters. Both abduction attacks took place on navigable waterways, although the Nigeria incident occurred in an inland lagoon in Lagos State, targeting a passenger boat rather than targeting commercial shipping offshore. In contrast the attack in Cameroon targeted Chinese fishing vessels. It is unconfirmed who was responsible for the Cameroon attack, but historically such incidents have been linked to Nigeria based gangs or Nigerian communities in Cameroon. The hijack of a fishing vessel off Freetown saw the vessel and crew taken and finally recovered several days later off Monrovia in Liberia after a deal was reportedly done with the coastguard. The remainder of the attacks in West Africa were attempted boardings and robberies in anchorages, with the exception of one incident on the maritime boundary between Sierra Leonean and Guinean waters. These inshore attacks are not categorised as piracy as they do not align with the definition of piracy as set out in UNCLOS. Details of the incidents are at the foot of this report.
While the above summarises the maritime crime situation over the last 5 weeks, illustrating a slight increase in activity levels, it cannot be concluded that we are seeing a return of piracy to the Gulf of Guinea region (noting that it never went away, it only decreased). The situation on the water in recent weeks is also somewhat uncharacteristic in terms of historical precedent. In the first 15 years of the millennium, we traditionally saw a reduction in maritime crime in the months of June and July. This was attributable to the sea state, which between mid-June and mid-August is generally unfavourable for small boat operations in open waters. The advent of the use of mother ships by the pirate gangs allowed the criminals to overcome the challenges of poor sea conditions and saw them move to deep-water operations beyond territorial waters and in the Exclusive Economic Zones defined by UNCLOS.
Despite the apparent uptick in activity levels, the data at present is still too lean to say that we are witnessing a resurgence of maritime crime, but the 2 events in Lagos and Douala, and the hijacking off Freetown, are noteworthy due to the abduction of 8 and 5 persons in Nigeria and Cameroon respectively and the hijacking of a vessel much further West. It is also worth stating that all kidnapping incidents detailed in the IMB report from January to June this year took place in the Gulf of Guinea. Some intelligence is reporting a 100% increase in alerts in the region for June 2023 compared to the same month last year, however what constitutes an alert can vary between different platforms/reporting systems. Arete continues to advise companies operating in the region to carry out risk assessments and take appropriate mitigation measures as these recent incidents highlight that the threat still remains despite reported incidents having reduced.
A nationwide increase in month-on-month incidents has also been observed in the onshore environment across the country, with over 30% more incidents in June than in May. Kidnappings are also up, with an approximately 35% increase in kidnapping incidents in June and fatalities increased by 25% in June over the preceding month.
This general increase in levels of security incidents is noteworthy in the context of the inauguration of President Tinubu in May. Our Deep Dive, released in 2 parts examined the challenges and options facing the new President in the matter of security and stability for the country. The President pledged to address the security challenges facing the nation, and one of his first acts in this context was to replace the heads of almost all his security agencies. This dislocation of command has potentially generated a degree of interruption in operational continuity as the new heads of departments, services and agencies each bring in their own new leadership teams. It is possible that the upturn in the rates of criminality in recent weeks reflects opportunistic behaviour, as criminal elements both on and offshore seize the day while the security organs are realigning under these new command structures.
Arete continues to monitor the situation both onshore and on the nation’s riverine and maritime environments. We will deliver further analysis as the security environment evolves under the new President.
Maritime Crime Incidents in West Africa – June-July 2023
Nigeria – Inshore Kidnapping – At approximately 18:00hrs local time on 26 June 2023, eight (8) oil workers were kidnapped whilst travelling in a passenger boat in position 06°25.08N 003°21.07E in the Lagos Lagoon. The passenger boat which departed the Lekki region for Tin Can Island was boarded by gunmen who forced victims onto their vessel and fled the scene. The passenger boat was later discovered at a jetty in Ikorodu, Northeast of Lagos Lagoon. The victims were released on 2nd July, although it is unclear whether any ransom was paid.
Ghana – Boarding Theft – At approximately 00:55 hrs local time on 28 June 2023, an unnamed cargo ship reported a boarding and theft while anchored in position 04°53.03N 001°36.06W in the Takoradi anchorage. Three perpetrators were sighted lowering paint buckets down the side of the vessel onto a boat. Following the alarm that was raised, the crew mustered, and the Port Control was informed. upon searching the ship, it was discovered that items of ships stores had been stolen including twelve drums of paint.
Cameroon – Armed Attack – At approximately 22:40 hrs local time on 30 June 2023, two unnamed fishing vessels were attacked whilst proceeding in position 03°56.00N 009°35.00E, near buoy 14 in the Wouri River, Douala. Some armed bandits onboard several speedboats approached the two Chinese-flagged fishing vessels. The attackers’ approach resulted in a crossfire between the bandits and the Cameroonian military guards onboard the fishing vessels. One of the pirates was killed and a pistol and one magazine were recovered from the incident. Five crew members were kidnapped from the vessels.
Sierra Leone – Boarding Theft – At approximately 03:55 hrs local time on 05 July 2023, an unnamed Turkish-flagged fishing vessel reported a robbery incident while operating in position 08°53.00N 013°31.00W in the Northern part of Sierra Leone waters, bordering Guinea. Eight (8) perpetrators boarded the vessel and stole various items before destroying the cameras and communication equipment. During the incident, the captain was shot and is currently undergoing surgical treatment in an undisclosed hospital, his condition is stable. A Sierra Leonean Navy patrol team was deployed immediately to the location, and the vessel headed to Freetown Port.
Guinea – Attempted Boarding – At approximately 09°17.00N 013°45.42W on 05 July 2023, an unnamed tanker reported an attempted boarding whilst anchored in position 09°17.00N 013°45.42W, 14NM South of Conakry. Six perpetrators were spotted trying to board the tanker from a small boat, using a ladder. Duty crew directed a searchlight at the perpetrators, which resulted in them escaping empty-handed. The crew were all reported as safe.
Ghana – Attempted Robbery – At approximately 00:35 hrs local time on 10 July 2023, the master of an unnamed cargo vessel reported an attempted robbery while the vessel was anchored in position 04°53.07N 001°41.08W in the Takoradi Anchorage. The duty crew noticed that the razor wire on the forward, port side of the cargo vessel had been partly removed and two (2) perpetrators were sighted on the deck. An alarm was raised, and the crew mustered. Port Control was informed via VHF Channel 14. Upon hearing the alarm and seeing the alerted crew, the perpetrators escaped into a waiting blue, wooden boat with an additional perpetrator. A full search of the cargo vessel was conducted, and it was confirmed that all padlocks were still intact, and nothing had been stolen. A patrol boat arrived at the scene and checked the area surrounding the vessel however, the perpetrators could not be found.
Angola boarding/theft – At 02:50 hrs local time on Thursday, 2o0 July 2023, an unnamed Hong Kong flagged container vessel was boarded while at anchor in position 06:06.012S 012:12.24E in the Soyo Anchorage. An unknown number of thieves boarded the vessel from a small boat and broke into one of the containers before stealing items of cargo. They were spotted by the duty drew who raised the alarm The perpetrators were able to escape.
Sierra Leone – Maritime Hijack – At approximately 04:30 hrs local time on Saturday, 22 July 2023, A fishing vessel was boarded by approximately 13 armed attackers while underway in approximate position position 08:22.00N 013:32.00W some 16 nautical miles SW of Freetown. The vessel was sailed to have been sailing south, towards Liberia. On 26 July 2023, the vessel was found located off Monrovia in Liberia. Two of the attackers were arrested but the other 11 escaped. The crew were rescued.