Updated: France Says Six Crew Kidnapped as Pirates Abandon Tanker
The French Navy located the missing product tanker that had been boarded by pirates last weekend but according to reports from the French patrol boat Premier Maitre L’Her which is assisting the tanker, six crewmembers have been kidnaped by the pirates. Security officials are continuing to warn of an increased level of threat in the Gulf of Guinea and the wider area off the west coast of Africa as efforts continue to resolve this situation.
“The Monjasa Reformer was located off Sao Tomé & Principe in the Gulf of Guinea by the French navy. At this point, the pirates had abandoned the vessel and brought a part of the crew members with them,” Danish oil trader Monjasa reported in its latest update. The company thanked the French navy and other authorities that assisted in locating the vessel while saying its thoughts are on the missing crew and their families. “Monjasa will continue working closely with the local authorities to support our seafarers safe return to their families.”
The French and British joint effort in the region, Maritime Domain Awareness for Trade Gulf of Guinea (MDAT-GoG) issued a brief update officially listing the incident as “complete,” after the vessel was located and has been secured.
French naval vessel arrived to assist the Monjasa Reformer (Marine Nationale photo)
The French Navy provided additional details reporting its patrol boat initially proceeded to the tanker’s last known position. On Thursday afternoon, March 30, they were able to spot the vessel while using an aerial drone. At the time a skiff was alongside the tanker which they believed was heading toward Nigeria. By early evening, as they were closing in on the tanker, a new reconnaissance flight showed the skiff was no longer alongside and the French reported hearing a distress message from the Monjasa Reformer broadcast on VHF 16.
The patrol boat reached the tanker and sent a team across including a doctor and nurse. The crew told the French that the pirates had left with six of their colleagues. The medical team reports they treated three of the crewmembers for minor injuries. They did not detail the vessel’s position but security consultants EOS Group calculated its position as approximately 90 nautical miles south of Bonny Island, Nigeria.
Update 4 : MT MONJASA REFORMER is reported as located. Incident complete, vessel safe. pic.twitter.com/OJxcFL396B— Maritime Domain Awareness for Trade Gulf of Guinea (@MDAT_GoG) March 30, 2023
The vessel had a crew of 16 with Danish Shipping reporting earlier in the week that none of the crew were Danes, but their nationalities are unknown. Monjasa is being circumspect in its reports over concerns for the safety of the crew.
A Nigerian patrol boat the NNS Gongola met up with vessels this morning and with the agreement of Monjasa, the tanker was escorted to the port of Lome. Monjasa is saying the crew that remained aboard are in good health and have been brought to a secure environment. The company also said there is no damage reported to the ship or cargo.
Authorities across the region had been searching for the vessel for the past five days with one report placing it on the move west northwest of its original position 140 nautical miles west of Port Pointe-Noire, Congo. The vessel ended up traveling hundreds of miles to the north before it was abandoned.
Danish Shipping and previously the ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) both highlighted the importance of maintaining vigilance as demonstrated by the current kidnapping incident. IMB in its annual report for 2022 highlighted that piracy had dropped to a modern low with just 19 incidents in the Gulf of Guinea and 115 reports worldwide during 2022. While 107 vessels were boarded last year, the IMB only recorded two hijackings and two kidnappings, but 41 crew were held hostage at some point.
Security analysts are pointing out that the current assault took place further to the south than the historic activity in the Gulf of Guinea, although there have been other incidents in the region off Congo. With the efforts to combat piracy originating from Nigeria and the surrounding areas, officials had previously warned that pirates were working further to sea and across a broader area.