19 February 2018

Gulf of Guinea tanker hijacking report

Detailed analysis based on first-hand research provides unprecedented insights for the shipping community operating in the region.

On Christmas Eve in 2010 the Italian product tanker VALLE DI CORDOBA was riding at anchor off Cotonou, Benin. Just before midnight Nigerian criminals boarded the ship unseen, overwhelmed the deck watchman and stormed the bridge to the surprise of the bridge watch. In what appeared to be a well-choreographed operation, the boarders detained the crew and then took control of the ship. They then discharged 5,000 metric tonnes of gasoline into an unseen bunker barge, before vanishing from the ship without a trace. It made their criminal backers instant millionaires within a little more than 48 hours.

This ‘success story’ sparked off a wave of short duration tanker hijackings in the Gulf of Guinea that has subsequently evolved into a unique and highly lucrative form of maritime crime in the region. Since 2010 it has cost insurers and companies millions of dollars in stolen cargo, damages and injuries to crew.

“Violent armed crime in the Gulf of Guinea is not a new phenomenon,” says Risk Intelligence CEO Hans Tino Hansen. “But starting with the VALLE DI CORDOBA the threat picture changed radically.”

This form of piracy has become very costly. An estimated 117,000mt of product worth approximately $100 million has been stolen since 2010. The human cost of the pirate attacks is also significant. Two crew members on product tankers have been killed and at least 34 have been injured in hijacking related incidents.

“It’s a totally different dynamic in the Gulf of Guinea to what we’ve seen off Somalia or in South East Asia,” explains Hansen. “It’s almost entirely focused on product theft from tankers and there are large networks in operation that are making these thefts happen.”

Information about this type of maritime crime and how it impacts maritime business has typically been dispersed and mostly kept close by the affected companies. Amidst a flood of often poorly informed speculations, there have been few attempts to systematically analyse the root causes as well as any possible countermeasures.

“The Gulf of Guinea tanker hijacking report is the first real effort to describe the perpetrators of these tanker hijackings and how companies have dealt with these incidents in order to improve existing countermeasures,” says Hansen. “Understanding the networks in the area that support these hijackings is crucial for planning and preparation.”

The report is based on primary source material from the region, interviews with shipping companies who have experienced an attempted or actual hijacking, and all available open source material.

“We combined all the strengths of Risk Intelligence into one systematic analysis,” explains Hansen. “We have been reporting on and analysing these incidents for years, but we added in a significant level of detail from field studies in Nigeria – absolutely essential for understanding what is going on there.”

As a result, the report provides background, analysis and recommendations, and is focused on practical measures that can be implemented by operators in the region.

Detailed recommendations are outlined in the report for shipping companies and crews of product and chemical tankers trading in the area. The recommendations are considered alongside existing guidelines for maritime security, such as the ISPS code and the Best Management Practices (BMP), as well as the interim guidance published by several industry stakeholders.

“The perpetrators have a working template for successful hijackings,” according to Hansen. “And this is not a problem that international naval intervention can solve. Companies operating in the Gulf of Guinea need to take preventative steps at every level of their operations.”

In the first eight months of 2013, some 19 attacks took place against vessels operating in the region. There were 25 such attacks in 2012.

“This report is timely,” says Hansen. “There are onshore developments taking place but they have yet to make a significant difference to the overall threat picture. The risk is still very high.”

Due to the commercial sensitivities of the companies described in the report the report is only available to Risk Intelligence clients and to selected industry members and stakeholders. Please contact Risk Intelligence for further information.