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Maritime industry worried over rising Nigerian pirate attacks

T.E. Raja Simhan
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The maritime industry is worried over the increasing number of attacks by the Nigerian pirates on ships transiting through the African waters. While Somalia pirates are the most dreaded, there is a steady increase in attacks by Nigeria pirates since the start of this year.

Since the start of 2012, ten reports were received from Nigeria. A further attack in neighbouring Benin has also been attributed to Nigerian pirates. The reports include the hijackings of one product and one chemical tanker, between which 42 crew members were taken as hostage.

“Nigerian piracy is increasing in incidence and extending in range,” said Mr Pottengal Mukundan, Director of the London-based IMB Piracy Reporting Centre, which monitors piracy globally. Not less than six of the 11 reported incidents in Nigeria occurred at distances greater than 70 nautical miles from the coast, which suggests that fishing vessels are being used as mother ships to attack shipping further afield. Two crew members were killed when armed pirates boarded their bulk carrier 110 nautical miles off Lagos, Nigeria.

While the number of reported incidents in Nigeria is still less than in Somalia, and hijacked vessels are under control of the pirates for days rather than months, the level of violence against crew is “dangerously high,” Mr Mukundan said in the latest report on pirate attacks on ships. Meanwhile, 102 incidents of piracy and armed robbery were reported for the first quarter of 2012 with dangerously increasing numbers in West African waters.

Somalia dominates

Somalia continues to dominate with 43 attacks, including the hijacking of nine vessels and the taking hostage of 144 crew members. Four dhows and a fishing vessel, softer targets that make for ideal mother ships, were among the hijacked vessels. Somali pirates were also responsible for the hijacking of a Panamax bulk carrier at the end of March.

But while the number of 2012 incidents and hijackings is less than reports for the same period in 2011 (97 incidents, 16 hijackings), it is unlikely that the threat of Somali piracy will diminish in the short to medium term unless further actions are taken.

As of March 31, suspected Somali pirates still held 15 vessels with 253 crew members as hostages, with an additional 49 crew members being held hostage on land.

raja@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on April 24, 2012)
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