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Ongoing Incident: Pirates Board Product Tanker in Gulf of Guinea

tanker boarded off Congo
Pirates are aboard a product tanker off the coast of Congo (file photo)

Published Mar 27, 2023 4:44 PM by The Maritime Executive

The relative calm in the Gulf of Guinea appears to have been broken with reports of an ongoing incident with unknown boarders attempting to seize control of a product tanker that was laying off the coast of DR Congo near Point Noire. The French and British monitoring agency Maritime Domain Awareness for Trade Gulf of Guinea (MDAT-GoG) issued a warning which has been followed up by additional warnings to mariners to avoid the area offshore near the southern border of Congo and Angola.

Details on the incident remain scarce, but both MDAT-GoG and private security agencies are reporting that pirates approached and successfully boarded a product tanker overnight between March 25 and March 26. Accounts vary between three and five armed boarders. MDAT-GoG reported that the crew mustered and was able to take refuge in the vessel’s citadel. In their update, they said five armed persons had boarded from a single skiff and remain aboard the tanker attempting to hijack the vessel. They are reporting the incident as ongoing while a rescue effort was being mounted for the crew.

MDAT-GoG has not confirmed the name of the vessel and because the incident is ongoing with the crew still in danger, the details of the vessel are being withheld. The tanker is believed to have been laying off the coast after having departed the port several days ago. The last reported position was approximately 140 nautical miles west of Port Point Noire.

This would be the first confirmed boarding and hijacking in four months. In November, a South Korean-owned product tanker B. Ocean was also boarded near Cote d'Ivoire. The pirates stole oil from the vessel and damaged equipment. The Italian Navy assisted the product tanker in that incident.

MDAT-GoG has issued only five additional reports in the past 90 days for the west coast of Africa. Two involved attempted boardings that were unsuccessful in the northern reaches of the Gulf of Guinea. Those incidents took place at the end of January and the beginning of February near Cameroon. The others involved reports of theft aboard near Takaoradi, Ghana, and one incident near Angola.

The ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) in its 2022 annual report said there had only been 19 incidents in the Gulf of Guinea in 2022. They called for continuing vigilance however saying that the threat remained in the region. Highlighting the continuing danger in the region, the Nigerian Department of State Services in conjunction with other security agencies reports in the last week they have taken into custody eight suspects all believed to be part of criminal gangs in several raids. All of them were armed, mostly with AK47s or in one case a pump action rifle. In one instance the suspect had 432 rounds of ammunition, and another had 468 rounds of ammunition, and all of them had large sums of cash.