Pirates operating in the Gulf of Guinea appear to be expanding their range of activity, possibly in response to the increased patrols and planned enhancement in security by Nigerian and other authorities.
For the second time in less than two weeks, a Ghanaian fishing vessel has been attacked, with several of its crew members kidnapped.
Security authorities in the region have been on alert for increased activity. MDAT-GOG, the security cooperative effort between the British Royal Navy and French Navy, warned on May 31 of the increased threat of piracy activity in the area near Ghana and Benin. They urged that ships and crew increase their vigilance.
“Trends across the past 18 months have indicated a broadening of the piratical footprint within the Gulf of Guiana, beyond the traditional heartland of the Nigerian EEZ,” warned security analysts Dryad Global in its new update on the region.
In the latest incident, a commercial fishing vessel, the Iris S, operating from the Ghanaian port of Tema was reportedly boarded approximately 100 nautical miles south of Cotonou in Benin. The 500 gross ton vessel, which is nearly 40 years old, had a crew of 36 aboard, and being a slower moving ship would have been an easier target for the pirates.
Reporting in the media from Ghana said the Iris S had departed port on May 26 and by the following morning while operating in the water off Benin spotted an unidentified vessel near the horizon.
Approximately an hour after the first sighting, two skiffs approached the fishing vessel, forcing it to stop and seven armed pirates boarded. In the reports, the crew said they were uncertain if the vessel spotted on the horizon was acting as a mother ship for the skiffs.
The armed boarders rummaged the vessel, stealing personal possessions from the crew and equipment. They left the fishing vessel after about an hour, taking five crew members. The kidnapped individuals included the captain, chief officer, second officer chief engineer, all Korean nationals, as well as another engineer who was Filipino. The remaining 31 crew members were unharmed.
A Ghana Navy patrol boat escorted the Iris S back to port. Authorities have also been informed of the kidnapping and there was a hope that the pirates could be intercepted before they reached the Niger Delta where they are believed to be heading.
In the previous assault on May 19, pirates boarded the fishing vessel Atlantic Princess approximately 65 miles south of Tema. In that incident, they initially took the vessel but later departed kidnapping five crew members from the fishing vessel.
Dryad’s analysis shows that overall pirate incidents are down in the region so far in 2021 compared to a year ago. They reported there have been a total of six incidents versus 11 last year. The number of crew kidnapped, however, has risen slightly to a total of 61 individuals in 2021.
The Nigerian authorities in May detailed their new initiative named Deep Blue that combines new resources with patrol boats, air reconnaissance, and land forces designed to protect the maritime community in the Nigerian EEZ as well as the oil facilities onshore. As these efforts increase, the pirates may be moving further offshore in an attempt to avoid capture.