INSIGHT: Surge of pirate attacks off W Africa cause concern

28 May 2012 15:34  [Source: ICIS news]

By Neha Popat

LONDON (ICIS)--A recent surge in pirate attacks off the west African coast is starting to attract the attention of an increasing number of players in the chemical tanker market.

A total of 11 ships were hijacked in 2011 off the coast of Nigeria, Benin and Togo - this compares with no hijackings the year before.

Although the east African region remains a hotspot for incidents of piracy, crew members are less likely to experience violence and be safely released with the vessel once ransom has been paid.

Operators in particular are becoming increasingly aware of the violent tactics employed by west African gangs in search of the next lucrative cargo to sell off in the black market.

As a result, many are no longer willing to justify the firm freight rates involved in travelling to the region.

According to risk mitigation firm AKE Group; “crew members are likely to experience far higher levels of violence [if attacked off Africa’s west coast] as they are not viewed as a ransom-able commodity”.

“The attacks we are seeing here are a reflection of the general insecurity, poverty and corruption which occurs in the region,” said Rory Lamrock, intelligence analyst at AKE.

“Attacks which we have seen so far tend to be for the purpose of stealing cargoes on board,” he added.

Although chemical and energy companies are aware of the risks posed travelling off the west African coast, with the region a rich hub of resources, many are not currently deterred from trading in the region.

And, with freight rates across the majority of routes in the spot tanker market currently weak, some ship operators are still opting to travel to west Africa on contract business, to achieve firmer freight rates.

“The bulk of our earnings are generated by transporting contract cargoes from northwest Europe to west Africa,” one operator said.

The operator added that as long as adequate protection, such as convoys were provided, it would have no problem in continuing to travel down to the region.

Security measures have recently been stepped up to aid the loading and discharging of cargoes in west Africa.

The Nigerian government has gone to great efforts to improve security in the creeks and rivers that run inland, and the Nigerian navy now provide convoys and escorts to all vessels loading or delivering cargoes on the Bonny River.

However, the presence of naval forces is not currently on the scale witnessed on the east coast. As a result, more opportunistic attacks are taking place further out to sea off the west coast.

The latest monthly piracy report from logistics provider GAC Protective Solutions and AKE, warns that vessels now remain vulnerable up to 120 nautical miles off the coast of Nigeria, Benin and Togo.

The report also warns that stationary vessels in anchorages off major ports in west Africa are vulnerable to all forms of attack.

With mounting concerns over the global economy continuing to stifle the trading of chemicals across many regions, dwindling cargo enquiries in the spot tanker market has seen competition intensify among shipowners, leading to a decline in freight rates.

Brokers believe that while the market conditions remain weak, shipowners will still consider travelling to west Africa in order to recoup some of the losses that are made undertaking other voyages.

Although it is thought that activity in the region is not currently being hampered by the increase in pirate attacks, it remains to be seen whether any further increase in attacks will bring increased attention to the severity of the issue, and with it a greater reluctance among shipowners to transport cargoes to and from the region.

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By: Neha Popat
+44 208 652 3214

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