Tag Archives: West Africa piracy

Can’t See them but Can Feel them: data against fish poachers

Iceland ship versus UK ship at the third Cod War (image from Wikipedia)

Australia is at the forefront of efforts to combat poaching. Its patrol ships have chased illegal trawlers almost as far as South Africa, a distance of 4,600 miles, to stop the plunder of prized Patagonian toothfish—sold in the U.S. as Chilean sea bass.  Australian government scientists and Vulcan Inc., Mr. Allen’s private company, have developed a notification system that alerts authorities when suspected pirate vessels from West Africa arrive at ports on remote Pacific islands and South America.

The system relies on anticollision transponders installed on nearly all oceangoing craft as a requirement under maritime law. These devices are detectable by satellite.  A statistical model helps identify vessels whose transponders have been intentionally shut off. Other data identifies fishing boats that are loitering in risk areas, such as near national maritime boundaries…

“On one hand you can’t see them [if their transponder is switched off], but on the other it means they’ve just flagged themselves as avoiding surveillance, and as a risk indicator, that’s at the top of the list,” he said…

And a third of all fish sold in the U.S. is believed to be caught illegally. Seafood consumption in wealthy nations has soared in recent decades, increasing reliance on imports. Between 1980 and 2014, U.S. seafood consumption rose 60%, with imports now meeting 90% of the demand, according to Global Fishing Watch and the World Wildlife Fund….

Illegal fishing causes commercial losses of up to $23 billion a year world-wide, according to the U.N….

The researchers’ satellite-based tracking tool will begin operating in October 2017 and will be free to access. It was set up in response to a treaty aimed at eradicating illegal fishing that came into force on June 2016.The Agreement on Port State Measures…

China is the world’s largest seafood producer, followed by Indonesia, the U.S. and Russia. The most critical area for poaching is off the coast of West Africa, where illegal, unauthorized and unregulated fishing accounts an estimated 40% of fish caught, according to the World Ocean Review. Other areas of concern include the western and southern Pacific and the southwest Atlantic. Illegal trawlers contribute to overfishing that threatens marine ecosystems and food security in some of the poorest countries.

Last year, Argentina’s coast guard opened fire on and sank a Chinese trawler that was fishing illegally in its waters. South Korea’s coast guard fired on Chinese poachers several months later.  Australian authorities have said geopolitical tensions in the South China Sea, a rich fishing ground, may be driving more illegal fishing vessels into the South Pacific from China, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Excerpts from Trawling Scientists Find a Better Way to Reel In Illegal Fishing, Wall Street Journal, June 26, 2017

Feudal System: pirates fund political parties in Africa

Gulf of Guinea. image from wikipedia

Just a few years ago the most dangerous waters in the world were off the coast of Somalia. But piracy there has fallen dramatically. It is more than two years since Somali pirates last successfully boarded a ship. At their peak in 2011, attacks were taking place almost daily. The number of attempts has fallen to a handful every month. Now it is the Gulf of Guinea that is the worst piracy hotspot, accounting for 19% of attacks worldwide, as recorded by the International Maritime Bureau. It registers an attack nearly every week  The numbers are probably underestimates. America’s Office of Naval Intelligence reckons the real figure is more than twice as large—and growing.

The nature of piracy is quite different on the two sides of the continent. Around the Horn of Africa in the east, Somali pirates seek to seize ships and crews for ransom, and have ventured deep into the Indian Ocean. In the Gulf of Guinea in the west, attackers are more intent on stealing cash and cargoes of fuel, such as diesel, from ships coming in to port. Crews are sometimes kidnapped.

It is a quicker hit than the Somali hostage-taking. It also tends to be more violent because the attackers have little incentive to keep the crews safe. Armed resistance is often met with heavy machine guns and military tactics, says Haakon Svane, of the Norwegian shipowners’ association. Ships are seized for a few days, anchored quietly and cargoes are siphoned off into smaller vessels. The gangs also appear to have good intelligence, security sources say: they often know which ships to attack and they recruit the skilled crewmen needed to operate the equipment.

Frequently the targets are themselves involved in regional smuggling, so they switch off transponders or assume false identities, making it hard for rudimentary anti-piracy forces to keep track of them. Moreover, they do not report attacks.

Incidents have stretched all the way from the Ivory Coast to Angola, but the root of the problem lies in Nigeria. Most acts of piracy are committed in Nigerian seas, by Nigerian criminals. The trouble at sea is ultimately tied to the country’s dysfunctional oil industry and the violent politics of the Niger Delta, where most of the oil is produced. Nigeria is the world’s eighth-largest oil producer; nevertheless, it suffers from shortages of refined fuels.

Widespread “bunkering” (the term Nigerians use for the theft of oil) and a violent insurgency created the conditions for piracy to flourish. Analysts say there tend to be spikes in both bunkering and maritime criminality before elections, which may mean that politicians are using illicit means to finance themselves. If so, expect pilfering to rise as Nigeria’s presidential vote nears in February. “The ransoms are used for the elections,” says Hans Tino Hansen, managing director of the Risk Intelligence consultancy. He points to a “feudal system” in which politicians protect pirates in return for a cut of their profits. An added problem is that elections may divert the attention of the security agencies…Te worry is that piracy, itself, is becoming enmeshed with drugs- and arms-smuggling networks linked to violent jihadist groups in the Sahel.

Piracy in Africa: The ungoverned seas, Economist, Nov 29, 2014, at 44

Business Models of Piracy: the pirates of the Niger Delta

Armed_guard_escort_on_a_merchant_ship

The decline in Somali piracy (which, according to a recent World Bank report, may at its peak have cost the world up to $18 billion a year in extra shipping expenses and lost trade) is partly the result of increasingly sophisticated co-ordination by international naval task-forces. Shipping companies are also making their vessels harder to attack thanks to a range of defensive measures, such as razor wire around decks, high-pressure hoses and maintaining speeds that make boarding hazardous. Armed security guards on many of the ships transiting pirate-infested waters have helped too.But the pirates could still make a comeback. The cost of deterring them is high. Shipping companies may lower their guard if they think the threat has passed, and patrolling naval forces could be needed elsewhere. And although Somali piracy has faded, west Africa has seen a surge in attacks on ships passing through the Gulf of Guinea.

Tom Patterson, a maritime security expert at Control Risks, a consultancy, says these pirates, who largely come from militant groups in the Niger Delta, have a different business model to their Somali counterparts. They tend to hold ships for about two to five days, removing as much of their cargo as possible (usually gas oil) and then auctioning it to the highest bidder. Hostages are taken if potentially valuable. This week five Poles and Russians, held since April 25th when pirates attacked the German-operated City of Xiamen container ship off Nigeria’s coast, were released, doubtless after a ransom payment.

International naval forces are unlikely to intervene. Nigeria has a decent navy of its own which claims to be upping its efforts to contain piracy. But foreign diplomats believe that some military officials turn a blind eye to thefts in return for a share of the spoils

Hijackings on the high seas: Westward Ho!, Economist, May 18, 2013, at 67

West Africa Piracy: in full swing

Africa_map_regions

A spike in piracy off Nigeria’s oil-rich coast has shown gangs are willing to venture further afield and use more violent tactics, increasing the risk of doing business in Africa’s largest energy producer.Pirates demanded a 200 million naira ($1.3 million) ransom for the release of six foreigners kidnapped on Sunday (Feb. 17, 2013), the latest in at least five attacks in Nigerian waters this month.

Exxon Mobil and Shell officials said this week that security was a major factor in Nigeria, and it was one of the most expensive oil-producing countries to operate in.  “The recent upsurge in maritime kidnaps off the Niger Delta … has not been witnessed since 2010,” said Tom Patterson, maritime risk analyst at Control Risks.  “It is easy to underestimate the debilitating effect such a situation can have, even on larger corporations,” Patterson added.

Oil and shipping companies have to hire crisis management teams, pay huge insurance premiums and face the prospect of ransom payments, as well as brace themselves for damage to their reputations.  At the same time, pirates are becoming more ambitious.  Three crew members were kidnapped on Feb. 7 from the British-flagged cargo ship Esther C around 80 miles offshore, the furthest pirates have reached in the Gulf of Guinea.  A Filipino crew member was killed when gunmen attacked a chemical tanker three days earlier, in the first confirmed case in Nigerian waters of crew killed on a vessel that deployed a private armed team, security firm AKE said.

“The main problem with the increase in West African piracy is the consequences to the crews,” said Jakob Larsen, maritime security officer with BIMCO, the world’s largest private ship owners’ association.  “Given the more violent nature of the pirate attacks off West Africa, there is every reason to exercise caution when deciding whether to use armed guards or not.”

The prime suspects for most attacks are Nigerian oil gangs, who already carry out industrial scale crude theft, called ‘bunkering’ in the restive onshore Niger Delta swamplands.  Nigeria’s oil minister said this week that oil theft, which can amount to 150,000 barrels per day (bpd), was the work of an international criminal syndicate. President Goodluck Jonathan has asked Britain for help.

Security experts also believe Nigerian security officials and politicians are complicit in oil theft and piracy.  “There are many top people in Nigeria involved in commissioning these attacks and sharing the profits,” said Michael Frodl, head of U.S. consultancy C-Level Maritime Risks.  “It’s obvious to us that they’ve been bringing in people in other nations into the game, and sharing a cut in exchange for tips for tankers and cargoes.”…

“Piracy off Nigeria and West Africa is really much more an extension of the ‘bunkering’ that’s endemic on shore, and we think that as oil prices continue to rise, the potential for making bigger profits by reselling stolen oil will only further accelerate attacks and hijackings,” C-Level’s Frodl said.  The rise in pirate attacks comes as Nigerian forces have been more stretched in the last two years due to an Islamist insurgency in the Muslim north.

Excerpts, Joe Brock and Jonathan Saul, UPDATE 1-Nigerian offshore attacks surge as pirates advance, Reuters, Feb 21, 2013