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I had always believed that pirates boarded oil tankers in order to take the crew and cargo hostage in return for a ransom, or to syphon off the cargo for illegal sale on the black market, but it seems as though the pirates aren’t above a bit of common mugging.
I say common, but it isn’t the most common thing in the world to discover that an oil tanker (its crew mainly) has been the victim of a mugging, but on Thursday the government, and maritime agency of Togo announced that pirates had looted a chemical tanker off the coast earlier in the week.
Traditionally the Horn of Africa has been a danger zone for pirate attacks, but whilst international navies are actively engaged in counter-piracy operations there, the growing piracy activities in the Gulf of Guinea (along the coasts of Nigeria, Togo, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast) has begun to grow exponentially, with little fear of naval retribution.
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Pirates from Nigeria are increasing attacks on ships in the Gulf of Guinea. (The Economist)
Gunmen approached the MT Ocean Centurion tanker on Tuesday, and boarded it around 45 miles south of the capital Lome, whereupon they did not hijack the ship, but rather stole money and possessions, before making a getaway.
The Togolese government sent out a naval vessel to the tanker after receiving a distress call in the wake of the attack. The tanker was then escorted to the port of Lome whilst the country’s navy hunted the pirates.
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The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) confirmed that “on July 16, the robbers took two crew members and disembarked from the tanker with the rescue boat, taking along ship's cash, crew cash and personal belongings. The crew were released later. Three crew members were injured during the incident.”
The increased number of pirate attacks in the area, mostly believed to be carried out by Nigerian gangs, have led to a sharp increase in the shipping and insurance costs for voyages along Africa’s West Coast, deterring investors from supporting projects in those coastal countries.
Another pirate attack from this week has also been announced. In a more traditional hijacking, pirates took control of an oil products tanker, taking hostage the 24 on board crew. The attack occurred just of the coast of Gabon, making it the most southerly pirate raid in the Gulf of Guinea.
By. Joao Peixe of Oilprice.com
Joao is a writer for Oilprice.com