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Seafarers kidnapped in Gulf of Guinea attacks

Several Russians and a Ukrainian among the crew abducted from two different vessels. Spate of attacks happened in roughly the same area during a 48-hour period

Nearly 50 crew have been abducted in the region so far, as Dryad Global warns of an uptick in kidnap for ransom cases in the Gulf of Guinea

THE reported kidnappings of five seafarers in the Gulf of Guinea at the weekend could bring the total abductions in the region to more than 50 this year.

The spate of captures was from two separate vessels, with one very large crude carrier making a lucky escape because of the timely arrival of the authorities, according to Lloyd’s List Intelligence.

On Saturday, the 8,646 dwt Comoros-flagged general cargo vessel Rio Mitong was attacked by pirates while at anchor at Malabo anchorage in Equatorial Guinea. After boarding the vessel from a speedboat, the pirates took two crew members, one Russian and one Ukrainian, and headed for nearby Cameroon waters leaving the remaining crew on board.

Just down the coast at Luba, 1,592 dwt Equatorial Guinea-flagged ro-ro vessel Djibloho was also attacked by pirates in a speedboat on Saturday. The pirates boarded the vessel and abducted three crew members, two Russians and one Equatorial Guinea national, and fled in an unknown direction.

The last speedboat attack, on China-flagged very large crude carrier Yuan Qiu Hu, happened about six nautical miles southeast of the Moudi Terminal in Cameroon. The Cosco Shipping Tanker (Dalian)-owned tanker raised an alarm on the VHF Channel 16 and increased its speed.

Cameroon forces sent a patrol vessel, which arrived about 45 minutes later. The pirates broke off the attack after seeing the patrol vessel and fled the area.

Security consultancy Dryad Global noted the proximity of both incidents but said it was unclear which occurred first, or whether the same group was responsible.

If confirmed, the kidnappings could bring the total for the region to 52, from 48 last week.

Dryad Global analyst James Welsh said the milestone was “troubling”, but consistent with last year when 46 people were kidnapped across the same timeframe. Mr Welsh said 83 people were kidnapped between January and May 2018.

He said there were historically few kidnappings between May and July, at the peak of the West African monsoon season.

Mr Welsh said data showed little impact of coronavirus on maritime security in the region so far. But he said: “With delays at ports increasing concentrations of vessels at anchor and drifting, this has increased the opportunity for acts of maritime crime and piracy.”

He said in one instance, naval teams on vessels in waters off Benin were withdrawn because of coronavirus fears. Soon after doing so, the boxship Tommi Ritscher was boarded at the Cotonou anchorage and eight crew kidnapped.

Meanwhile, the French Navy had suspended the Corymbe mission and withdrawn the patrol vessel Lieutenant de Vaisseau Le Henaff.

Mr Welsh said several ships from European navies had been involved in responding to pirate attacks during the last year, including Italian and Portuguese Navy vessels.

“A drawdown in international resources for the region will enhance the freedom of movement for would-be perpetrators of maritime crime and acts of piracy.”

International Maritime Bureau director Michael Howlett said multiple crew kidnappings continued to occur at considerable distances from the coast. Mr Howlett said 10 crew were kidnapped from an underway product tanker 127 nm southwest of Bayelsa, Nigeria, on April 30.

“Such attacks often occur in busy waterways, thus posing a threat to the safety of navigation and quite possibly the environment,” he said.

“From our side, those navies the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre has contacted since the onset of Covid-19 have continued to assist and investigate.”

Dryad Global said the attempted attack on Yuan Qiu Hu was the fourth in the waters off Cameroon this year. It also highlighted another report of a speedboat sighted circling an offshore platform in waters off Mayumba, Gabon.

The consultancy noted an upward trend in severity of incidents notably those involving kidnap for ransom in the Gulf of Guinea and warned that “vessels operating in this region must maintain the highest levels of vigilance and ensure that vessels are adequately hardened when required”.

Mr Welsh said the crews of Elobey VI and MSC Talia F were released on May 1 and May 2, after 40 and 42 days captivity respectively.

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