According to the UK P&I Club, there is an extremely worrying new “piracy” trend developing off West Africa.
Previous attacks off the West African coast have usually involved petty theft and pilferage, while the higher profile, large scale attacks have been politically motivated.
Now it seems that there is a change, of both scale and ferocity. Pirate groups have turned their attentions to the wholesale theft of oil cargoes from tankers.
The latest attack profiles have seen gangs board vessels, they then destroy all communications equipment and transfer oil from the tanker into their own small tanker vessels.
The operations have been known to take as long as four days, and the vessels and crew are effectively hijacked for the duration of the theft.
While the scale of the piracy has increased, so too has the geographic spread. Pirate activity had previously been confined to port areas or the politically sensitive Bonny River and Niger Delta regions, now however the pirates are on the move. They are reaching further afield and even into foreign territories to capture vessels.
As tankers have moved further offshore away from the danger zone around Lagos to transfer cargoes, so too have the pirates. They have been known to operate along the coasts of Benin and Cotonou.
The pirates are believed to be Nigerian, and the push outwards is believed to be a direct response to the successes of the Nigerian Navy in their own territorial sea.