Since the release of the seven crew members kidnapped from the Bourbon Liberty 249 off the coast of Nigeria, there has been considerable debate as regards the payment, or otherwise, of a ransom
Worrying Changes off the Coast of West Africa
By Mark Lowe, Editor at Maritime Security Review
Since the release on November 1 of the seven crew members kidnapped from the Bourbon Liberty 249 off the coast of Nigeria on October 15, there has been considerable debate as regards the payment, or otherwise, of a ransom.
According to a statement released by Bourbon on the day of their release, the seven crew members – six Russians and one Estonian – appeared to be in good health despite having been held in difficult conditions.
Upon release, all seven were transferred to the care of the Bourbon Emergency Unit in Nigeria where they underwent a series of careful medical and psychological check-ups.
It is believed that the attack took place at dawn close to the terminal in Bayelsa State and that nine Nigerian crew members were left on board the vessel.
The French offshore shipping company will not disclose any details as to the dynamics of the attack or as to having paid a ransom to assure the release of the abducted employees.
In a press release the company stated “For reasons of confidentiality and in order to preserve the privacy of the families, no information will be given about the demands, the context, the released crewmembers and their families.”
However well handled by Bourbon, this latest incident raises a number of issues of concern and brings the focus of media attention around to West Africa once again.
Lee Kirton, Head of Global Maritime Operations at LGS Nigeria, commented from Lagos that “Maritime crime in the region [Gulf of Guinea] is well established, kidnappings are nothing new, what concerns me is a change in the overall level of sophistication.”
According to Kirton, “The energy and shipping industries should be concerned by the way the gangs involved are ever better equipped and that there is evidence they have access to maritime intelligence.”
Kirton believes that despite the recent series of abductions, the criminal gangs are more interested in the theft of oil and other cargoes than in kidnapping foreign workers.
“What we generally see is a situation where a vessel is boarded and the crew held while the pirates steal the cargo and anything else that they can move.
“These thefts can be very violent, crews are forced to handover any money they have and all items of value are stolen, but on the whole the crews are left on board the vessels when the operations are concluded.”
Questioned as to the recent Bourbon Liberty 249 kidnapping, Kirton replied that “The issue has nothing to do with a ransom being paid or not,” adding that “within the context of kidnapping, we are highly opposed to the unnecessary disclosure of details and therefore applaud Bourbon’s official stance that they simply will not comment.”
“That said, the risk of kidnapping is there, it’s been there for a long time and it will continue to be there for a long time yet – both out on the water and on land.
“All of the companies that have a permanent presence here know this and have plans in place to mitigate the risk and to respond to a crisis if necessary.”
The LGS Nigeria manager pointed out that Bourbon was able to work with Nigerian local authorities (Police, Special Security Services and Joint Task Force) due to established protocols and an understanding of collaborative procedures.
“The importance of maintaining a close working relationship with the various agencies should not be underestimated; it’s at the heart of any reliable service.”
A rise in levels of piracy
Over the past few months, the International Maritime Bureau has issued warnings that the Gulf of Guinea has seen a distinct rise in levels of piracy and robbery at sea. The Bureau is particularly concerned by the fact that robberies are often violent. Indeed a number of crew members have been……[access full article]