On Sunday, we heard the good news of the release of Hai Soon 6, following its hijack on 25th July off Ghana. Not long after this news from the IMB, Dryad relocated the vessel in exactly the place we expected – off the Niger Delta and some 200 miles east of where she went missing. The bad news is that this is now looking like the third successful cargo theft this year in West Africa. From Angola in the south, where MT Kerala was hijacked in January, to Ghana in the west, where the latest victim fell prey to organised crime, 2014 has see n Nigerian gangs continue to demonstrate their ability to hijack vessels at considerable range from their homebase of the Niger Delta.
The fact that these criminal gangs far too regularly manage to take control of a vessel, remain undetected for up to a week or more, whilst organising an illegal STS operation to offload the cargo and deliver it to a ‘client’ ashore, tells you all you need to know about the relative capabilities of the gangs and the regional forces that are struggling to deal with them. The former are highly motivated, highly organised and conduct intelligence led operations to meet their nefarious objectives, whilst the latter just don’t seem to have the capability or capacity to deal with the problem.
The good news is that some form of regional naval deterrence could be in evidence; after all, the criminal gangs do reach into distant waters to prey on the unprepared, far beyond the target rich environment of Lagos and Cotonou. Such long-range forays have continued to meet with success, as unsuspecting crews operate in areas they consider safe. The hijack of MT Kerala from its anchorage off Luanda being the most shocking example of this in 2014; so much so, that the Angolan authorities and many in the shipping community suggested it was a crew-inspired fraud. It wasn’t.
The bad news is that the hijack victims are almost invariably taken back to the seas off the Niger Delta to be stripped of their cargoes by way of illegal STS operations and yet hijacked vessels are very rarely located when the crime is in progress. We might not know where the criminals will strike, but having done so, we know where they will return to. And yet the level of success in dealing with the criminal gangs is pitifully low. As crews are normally released unharmed, it could be argued that it’s best to let the crime run its course, rather than attempt some armed intervention which could go horribly wrong and result in crew being killed in the act of rescue.
The final bit of bad news is that this latest hijack of Hai Soon 6 demonstrates that the initiative remains very firmly in the hands of the bad guys. Turning the tables on them is long overdue and is a piece of good news that would be very well received by seafarers in product tankers across the region.