An alert has been issued for a possible “pirate action group” active in the Gulf of Guinea traveling in a region from the coast of Sao Tome & Principe north to Nigeria. The group of pirates is believed to be behind at least five incidents in the region highlighting both the danger and how these groups are working.
The group is believed to have made its first attempted assault on a ship on Saturday, February 6, approaching and boarding the product tanker Sea Phantom approximately 115 nautical miles off the coast of Cameroon. The tanker, which was traveling east, carried out evasive maneuvers attempted to avoid the pirates but the group was successful in boarding the vessel. The crew had retreated to the citadel and a coordinated response by naval vessels and helicopters caused at least eight pirates to flee when the helicopter responded to the distress call.
Piecing together the events after that, Dryad Global and other security analysts now believe the pirates next set their sights on the fishing vessel Lianpengyu. The Gabon flagged ship was reported to be fishing tuna in the region with a crew of 14 to 18 Chinese nationals aboard. The nature of the vessel meant that it was less protected and able to fight off the pirates.
After boarding the fishing vessel, the pirates are believed to have not only kidnapped the crew but also hijacked the vessel. It is currently suspected as acting as the mother ship for the pirates as they seek additional opportunist targets.
Another oil tanker, the MT Seaking, reported sighting a small boat being launched from a mother vessel that is possibly the fishing vessel. The pirates attempted to board the Seaking using ladders. The tanker was able to take evasive action to avoid the pirates.
Dryad issued a warning to all vessels in the area that the situation is critical. They are expecting additional incidents as this group continues to look for opportunist targets as it travels north.
In what is the twelfth offshore incident tracked this year by Dryad and the sixth successful boarding, the group next targeted a Panama-flagged chemical tanker, the Maria E. The vessel was boarded approximately 100 nautical miles northwest of Sao Tome. The group is also being associated with another approach in the region, this one being against the LPG carrier Madrid Spirit. The vessel was heading south from Nigeria when it was approached but it was sailing at 19 knots and undertook evasive actions to avoid a boarding.
Both Dryad and Praesidium International are warning vessels in the region to be on the lookout for the fishing vessel, which has a blue hull and white superstructure. It is believed to be sailing at speeds of up to 9 knots.
Praesidium notes that vessels in the region have adopted “stealth mode navigation,” turning off their AIS signal but that this has not kept the vessels safe from the pirates. The crew of the Maria E did not restore its AIS signal which they note could have put the crew at greater risk during the boarding as the forces responding to its calls would have had less data to locate the ship.
As the group of pirates approaches the Nigerian coast, Praesidium speculates that they may abandon the fishing vessel.
The assault on the Maria E was the fourth incident within 24 hours warns Dryad with the likelihood for additional activity remaining critical.