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West Africa: Maritime Business In Danger As Pirate Attacks Rise

Ruthless Nigerian pirate gangs have expanded their dastardly hundreds of miles beyond their home waters in the last three years. After Benin, pirates stepped up attacks further along the coast in Togo, before heading to Ivory Coast – the Gulf of Guinea’s second-largest fuel refinery after Nigeria.

In 2010, the (IMB), which has monitored global piracy since 1991, recorded 33 attacks in the Gulf of Guinea. Last year, that figure jumped to 58. Analysts say widespread under-reporting means the figure reflects just a fraction of the total, as there is little hope of rescue and reporting attacks bumps up insurance premiums. “We estimate there is about one attempted or actual a day … with the chance of it going to almost two a day if present trends continue,” said Michael Frodl, head of U.S.-based consultancy C-Level Maritime Risks.

Pirates’ use of rocket-propelled grenades to halt ships leave Ivory Coast’s police feeling helplessly outgunned.

Increasing piracy in the Gulf of , which includes Africa’s No. 1 oil producer Nigeria  is jacking up costs for shipping firms operating there. This is also having negative effects on maritime business and insurance costs.

Recently the  Nigerian Armed pirates attacked an oil products tanker off the coast of Nigeria in West Africa and abducted an unknown number of crew, security sources said. The Nigerian-flagged MT Matrix was boarded by gunmen in the June about 40 nautical miles off the coast of oil-producing Bayelsa State, two security sources said, in a stretch of water often targeted by pirates.

There were 12 Pakistani and five Nigerian crew aboard the vessel when it was attacked, one of the sources said. A spokesman for ship operator Val Oil Trading, who declined to give his name, confirmed there had been an “incident”, without giving further details.

Andrew Varney, of British-based security firm Port 2 Port Maritime, said the Matrix’s low freeboard – the distance between a ship’s railings and the water – and slower speed made it vulnerable to being boarded.“This latest incident further highlights the ability of these determined, adept criminals to attack vessels underway and the increasing migration from cargo theft to risk of kidnap for ransom,” Varney said. In May, there were two attacks in the Gulf of Guinea where foreigners were kidnapped and released a few weeks later.

Security sources believe ransoms were paid – an increasingly lucrative business for criminal gangs. “The risk of offshore kidnap for ransom remains high off Nigeria, particularly off Bayelsa and Rivers states,” security firm AKE said, referring to the southern Niger Delta region where much of Nigeria’s oil is produced. International navies have not launched counter-piracy missions in the Gulf of Guinea, leaving the many vessels that anchor off Nigeria vulnerable to attack.

Pirates’ use of rocket-propelled grenades to halt ships leave Ivory Coast’s police feeling helplessly outgunned.

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