Sea Shepherd Vessel Approached as Pirates Grow More Brazen

pirate attacks in Gulf of Guinea
Bob Barker - file photo courtesy of Sea Shepherd

Published Nov 10, 2020 8:01 PM by The Maritime Executive

Security experts recently warned that it was likely that there would be an increase in sea piracy activity in the Gulf of Guinea as the seasonal weather improved in the region. Since that warning, there have been five reports and while the ships have escaped incident crews are being warned to remain on high alert because of the high level of danger in the region.

Maritime security company Dryad Global warned that it believes two or more groups are active, especially in the area near Cotonou, Benin, but that the situation is continuing to evolve as the perpetrators react to opportunities and efforts to increase security. Both the Beninese and Nigerian navies are operating on high alert. According to Dryad, these groups appear intent on kidnapping seafarers that they can hold for ransom.

Last weekend, an Italian Navy frigate came to the rescue of the product tanker Torm Alexandra as it was being approached by a small boat in the Gulf of Guinea. Hours later, another tanker also reported an approach by a boat with seven armed pirates. In this instance, armed security guards aboard the vessel were successful in chasing away the pirates before they could attempt to board the tanker.

Yesterday, the Marshall Island flagged M/T La Boheme also reported that it was approached by two skiffs. The crew mustered in the vessel’s citadel while the master was successful in evading the boarding through a series of maneuvers. Praesidium International offered some additional details on the defense saying that the crew fired distress flares at the two speed boats helping to chase them away after they came within 40 meters of the tanker.

“Whilst the pirates retain both the capability and intent to target larger vessels, it is highly likely that smaller vessels presenting more opportune targets will become more desirable as time goes on and the risk to the perpetrators increases,” said Dryad in its security alert.

There is evidence that the attacks are becoming more brazen and less discriminate in the region as well. In the same area, hours before the tanker La Boheme was approached, Sea Shepherd, the international ocean conservancy movement active against illegal fishing had one of its vessels targeted. The 5,000 gross ton Bob Baker, a retired Norwegian whaler that carries a crew of up to 36, was approached approximately 100 nautical miles from Cotonou. 

According to Dryad, seven or eight armed individuals approached the 170-foot vessel coming within one nautical mile of the Bob Barker. The Barker has a speed of up to 15 knots and was carrying armed guards that fired warning shots. They were successful in chasing away the skiff.

Praesidium reports that in at least one instance a tanker was running in “stealth mode,” meaning that it had turned off its transmitting equipment but still was the target of an attack. Praesidium cites this instance to highlight that the technique is not necessarily effective as the attacks appear opportunistic. Authorities in the region have also been seeking to crackdown on vessels using this technique. Last month, it was feared that a vessel had been attacked after its signal disappeared only for it later to be discovered that the captain had purposely disabled his AIS signal.

The increased number of approaches has led to calls to increase patrols in the region while the security services continue to warn of the dangers.