PIRACY INCREASE OFF BENIN AFTER THREE YEARS OF INACTIVITY
The four successful hijackings and the two boardings recorded by NYA MarTrackTM in Benin waters in the first three months of 2018 represent the first maritime security incidents off the West African state since February 2015. The first incident which occurred on 9 January involved the hijacking of a product tanker 6NM from the southern port city of Cotonou. The vessel was subsequently released on 16 January after a ‘resolution process’ between the pirates and the vessel’s owner and all crew returned unharmed. It is unclear whether a ransom payment was made.
ESCALATION OF THE PIRACY THREAT
A similar modus operandi was identified across several of the recorded incidents. Pirates generally operate in groups of three to eight armed men and often target product tankers at anchor. While five piracy incidents targeted vessels anchored within the Cotonou Anchorage, approximately 7NM from Cotonou, perpetrators have demonstrated the ability to target vessels underway. On 26 March a vessel in transit was hijacked approximately 15NM from Cotonou.
The expansion in modus operandi to include transiting vessels further from the coast has likely been motivated by an increase in patrolling and anti-piracy initiatives off Cotonou by the Benin Navy. In two recorded incidents leading up to the 26 March hijacking, navy personnel managed to either prevent the hijacking or immediately rescue the kidnapped crewmembers through quick response.
At this time, the identity of the perpetrators remains unknown. However, the similarity of the modus operandi to incidents observed in Nigerian waters and reports that the pirates spoke English suggest that organised piracy groups based within Nigeria’s Niger Delta region are likely responsible. These groups have previously utilised mother ships and attached speedboats to conduct attacks across West Africa and Benin would certainly be within their operational reach.
CHALLENGES FACING BENIN
The significant escalation of the piracy threat in Benin waters represents a considerable issue for the developing nation. According to the UN, the Benin government receives up to 50% of its revenue from taxes on trade and 80% of these taxes are generated through Cotonou Port. Consequently, piracy has the potential to negatively affect Benin’s economy. During the last period of significant pirate activity off Benin in 2011, the government reportedly lost 28% of its annual revenue. Despite material and logistical support from nations including the US, France and China, capabilities of the Benin Navy are deemed limited and it is unlikely that naval forces will be able to completely deter perpetrators from conducting attacks in the short-term.
The escalation in piracy incidents off Benin to date in 2018 indicates how merchant vessels face a piracy threat throughout the Gulf of Guinea. NYA combines sophisticated vessel tracking software through NYA MarTrack with the continuous monitoring of regional maritime incidents to inform clients if a vessel is in close proximity to a significant piracy event such as a hijacking or an armed attack. In addition, the NYA24 operations centre is able to provide analytical reports to advise on prevailing threats at regional ports, anchorages and terminals.