An approach by a pirate action group (PAG) using a mother ship approximately 280NM south of Lomé, Togo, during July marked the furthest offshore incident recorded by NYA since 17 September 2015. On 22 July at 1500 UTC, the duty officer on board a tug vessel noticed a fishing vessel lowering two skiffs into the water, each with three to four persons on board. Skiffs then proceeded to approach the tug at high speed. The tug’s master successfully initiated anti-piracy manoeuvres and the vessel was later reported to be safe and continuing its transit.
MOTHERSHIPS ENABLE PIRATE ACTIVITY AT EXTENDED DISTANCES
The suspicious approach on 22 July followed two recent incidents in May and July also perpetrated by PAGs using mother ships. On 3 July and 21 May mother ship sightings were reported by two vessels in transit respectively 220NM southwest of Bayelsa state, Nigeria, and 140NM south of Lomé. All three incidents mark a departure from the typical modus operandi of PAGs operating offshore at this time of year.
Strong winds and rough seas from May to October mean the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) is currently at its least conducive to offshore piracy and any incidents are generally confined to within 50NM of the coastline. Consequently it is likely that, due to prevailing weather conditions, PAGs are using acquired vessels – including fishing trawlers and tugs – to continue launching attacks. Mother ships serve three main purposes for PAGs in the GoG:
Firstly, they enable groups to expand their area of operations into areas not typically associated with a high threat of piracy, allowing them to target unsuspecting vessels. Secondly, PAGs can attack vessels at such distances as 280NM and 220NM from the coast and therefore outside of the operational reach of a majority of naval forces in the GoG. Thirdly, the added fuel capacity on these larger vessels allows PAGs to remain at sea for extended periods.
NIGERIAN PAGS THE MOST LIKELY PERPETRATORS
Although the identity of perpetrators using motherships remains unknown, it is assessed that Nigerian PAGs are most likely responsible. In 2018 to date, groups based within the creeks and waterways of the Niger Delta have launched at least 28 actual or attempted attacks offshore in the Nigerian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) while also demonstrating the motivation to launch attacks across the GoG.
For example, and as noted by a previous NYA Insight Article, the incidents recorded off Benin from January to March 2018 were conducted by multiple English-speaking gunmen with a focus on hijacking and crewmember kidnapping. This modus operandi is consistent with that continually shown by Niger Delta PAGs and highlights their ability to both target vessels outside of the Nigerian EEZ and effectively modify their tactics – the attacks off Benin in January and February were the first recorded in the area since February 2015.
The incidents deep offshore using mother ships illustrate how PAGs are capable of effectively adapting to changing conditions in the GoG. The NYA24 operations centre continuously monitors for worldwide piracy incidents and is capable of providing clients with analytical reports on pirate activity as well as other prevailing threats. Furthermore, through NYA MarTrack™, NYA’s vessel tracking software, NYA24 can also inform clients if a vessel is in the vicinity of a significant piracy event such as a hijacking or attack. Contact our team to learn more about our maritime services or to have a demonstration of MarTrack, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on +44 207 281 7700.