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West African pirates inflate ransom demands by targeting larger ships

WEST African pirates are extracting US$30,000 to $50,000 per kidnapped crew member from insurance companies amid warnings that changing piracy tactics have triggered increasingly violent attacks in the Gulf of Guinea

29 January 2020 - 19:00

WEST African pirates are extracting US$30,000 to $50,000 per kidnapped crew member from insurance companies amid warnings that changing piracy tactics have triggered increasingly violent attacks in the Gulf of Guinea.

London-based maritime lawyer Stephen Askins, who specialises in piracy at Tatham & Co, says Nigerian pirate gangs are now 'maximising returns' by attempting to seize larger vessels in order to abduct larger numbers of crew. The spotlight is now on the Nigerian navy's response, he told London's Lloyd's List.



In a soon-to-be published paper, Mr Askins said pirates in the Gulf of Guinea are at greater risk of discovery by the military or other gangs, limiting the amount of time crew can be held. 'They have no desire to hijack and hold a vessel. Unless they have immediate access to the crew, they leave,' the paper said.



'Without the luxury of time, with more attacks being repelled then the obvious answer to maximise returns is to take more people,' Mr Askins said in his paper 'Nigerian Piracy ?have we reached a tipping point?'



The Gulf of Guinea is the world's most dangerous maritime region, with the numbers of hijacked vessels and crew abducted for ransom jumping in December when 38 crew were kidnapped in attacks on two vessels, including the very large crude carrier Nave Constellation and product tanker Duke. A suezmax tanker and liquefied natural gas carrier also successfully repelled armed attacks.



The actions of the Nigerian navy - which freed three crew from the dredger Ambika after a three-hour gun battle on January 13 - will be watched carefully, Mr Askins said in a separate interview.



Mr Askins said there was a hijacking attempt on a vessel in the Gulf of Guinea 24 hours ago and pirates were still active. Crew from the last remaining vessel being held hostage were likely to be released shortly. This would leave the pirates without any further income and incentivise them want to kidnap more crew.



Sizeable ransoms paid for kidnapped crew perpetuate the cycle, said intelligence manager for England-based Ambrey, Harry Pearce, 'soft targets routinely trading within West Africa and plying established (predictable) routes,' reported Lloyd's List.



'These latest attacks fit a trend ?for consecutive years since 2017, attacks in the Gulf of Guinea have been further offshore Nigeria and have been increasingly dispersed. It is this, and target diversification, that is making the operating environment increasingly difficult to secure.'



Gangs in and around the Niger Delta were being fed information about vessel movements, which are then confirmed via Automatic Identification System signals.



The vessels that are preventing pirates from boarding are relying in particular on the use of citadels and occasional intervention by local naval forces and embedded security teams provided by the Nigerian navy.



Weak governance and widespread corruption, as well as an inability to use armed maritime security guards constantly, has hampered piracy prevention in the region. The Niger delta has been a piracy and robbery hotspot for many years.



Violent attacks on seafarers and the extremely poor conditions in which they are being held have further raised the stakes for shipowners and charterers.


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