Think tank: Surge of pirate attacks off west Africa cause concern for chemicals

04 June 2012 00:00  [Source: ICB]

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 hot spot for incidents of piracy, crew members are less likely to experience violence and be safely released with the vessel once ransom has been paid.

Africa map 

 Pirate attacks are up off the coast of Benin, Togo and Nigeria

Copyright: RexFeatures

Operators in particular are more 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 ransomable 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."

Although chemical and energy companies are aware of the risks posed by travelling off the West African coast, given the 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, adding that as long as adequate protection such as convoys are 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 provides convoys and escorts to all vessels loading or delivering cargoes on the river Bonny. However, the presence of naval forces is not on the scale witnessed on the east coast. As a result, more opportunistic attacks are taking place further out to sea.

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

By: Neha Popat
+44 208 652 3214

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