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Pirates still rule off Africa: despite tighter security, piracy in African waters is on the increase. (Shipping Focus).

Pirate attacks on ships African waters first increased during the quarter of the year, despite onboard security having being tightened throughout the industry. According to figures released by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) there were 87 armed attacks on ships world-wide between January and March this year, an increase of 28% on the same period in 2001.

There were 32 reported attacks in Africa, the highest total since the IMB began compiling quarterly statistics in 1991. Abidjan, Bonny River, Lagos, Conakry, Dakar, Dar es Salaam, Douala, Luanda, Owendo and Tema have all witnessed pirate attacks, but Somalia and the Red Sea were the worst-hit areas.

World-wide, the primary targets were bulk freighters, tankers and general cargo ships. Two crew were killed and five injured in attacks, with another 21 missing, mostly in Indonesian waters, which are the most dangerous.

In Africa, the pirates' methods are crude and their gains are mostly quite modest, with ship's stores and equipment and personal belongings being the most likely to be stolen. In the South China Seas, however, it is becoming increasingly common for whole ships and their cargoes to go missing.

Knives are most often used in attacks on ships at anchor, when attackers climb aboard via chains or mooring lines. However, guns are most common when moving vessels are targeted.

Recent attacks

Typical recent incidents include one on May 20 at Douala port, Cameroon, when pirates armed with knives boarded a refrigerated cargo ship berthed alongside. The dury seaman raised the alarm and the pirates escaped by jumping over the ship's side.

Two weeks earlier at Accra anchorage, Ghana, pirates boarded an anchored chemical tanker and stole ship's stores. After the alarm was raised a police patrol vessel detained one pirate boat with stolen goods.

At Port Harcourt Wharf, Nigeria, a vessel was attacked by pirates who overpowered two security men, injuring one of them. The crew reportedly fled into cabins and locked themselves in, while the pirates rolled one full drum of engine oil into the river and fled.

Earlier at Lagos anchorage, four pirates armed with long knives boarded a bulk carrier and held a seaman hostage. The second officer raised the alarm and tried to fight off the pirates who fled with ship's stores. Two weeks later at the same anchorage, pirates boarded a general cargo ship and held a seaman at gun-point before making off with three of the vessel's mooring ropes.

At the container terminal in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, men armed with knives and daggers boarded a ship and threatened to kill five duty watchmen. When the duty officer raised the alarm the pirates jumped overboard with ship's stores. A similar story occurred at Lome port in Togo. These opportunistic raids on ships at anchor were foiled by vigilant watch keeping.

Direct confrontations

Sometimes the confrontations are more direct. Off Conakry, Guinea, a boatload of pirates armed with guns opened fire at a general cargo vessel and ordered her to stop engines. The crew switched on spot lights, increased speed and took evasive action. After a one-hour chase, the pirates finally gave up the pursuit. There was no reported injury to the crew but the vessel was hit by several bullets.

In Somalian waters, attackers are considered to be just as aggressive as their Guinean counterparts and better equipped. The IMB recommends that ships keep at least 50 miles and, if possible, 100 miles away from the Somali coast. They advise that use of radio communications including VHF in these waters should be kept to a minimum because pirates monitor transmissions. Smaller vessels are particularly vulnerable in these waters.

Satellites fight pirates

A recent innovation in the fight against piracy is a satellite tracking system, known as SHIPLOC, which allows shipping companies to monitor the exact location of their vessels via the internet.

To prevent the theft and resale of complete ships, new rules being drawn up by the International Maritime Organisation will require vessels to be tagged with unique embossed numbers on a visible part of the hull so that the origins of the vessel can be easily established.

This new requirement under the Safety of Life at Sea Convention has long been advocated by the IMB, a division of the London-based Commercial Crime Services (CCS) which expects the new rules to be in place within a year.


Oil fields off the West African coast are due to receive a massive investment in the provision of floating oil and gas production systems. A recent report forecasts that about $11bn will be invested in 'floaters' in the region's oil fields during the next five years.

This is about twice as much as the other major oil producing regions, and reflects the rise of West African fields against a decline in European markets.

The report by Douglas-Westwood & Infield Systems states that $20bn has been spent globally on floating systems in the past five years and that this will rise to $32bn over the next five years. More than 130 floaters are expected to be installed by 2006, joining the 200-odd systems currently in use. By 2004 the annual spend on floaters will be more than $9bn.

Perenco, an independent company, has gained a five-year contract extension to provide floating storage and off-loading facilities off Cameroon' Mokoko-Abana oil fields. The 240,000dwt tanker Moudi will be used as a storage vessel from which smaller tankers will be loaded, Parenco also operates the 80,000dwt USF1 as a storage vessel in the southern part of the country.

Meanwhile the Kudu field off Namibia has yielded disappointing results from exploratory drilling, meaning that early orders for a floating LNG production plant have been put on hold.


In Kenya some 10,000 job applicants who each paid more than Ksh10,000 ($128) to employment recruiting agents for the chance to work on cruise ships out of the United Arab Emirates have been told that there are no jobs. The adverts offering the positions have been described as part of a cruel hoax designed to defraud workers in the impoverished country. The Labour Minister, Joseph Ngutu, called in the Criminal Investigation Unit after angry applicants besieged the offices of recruitment agents. Agents in Kenya and UAE, however, have said the jobs will be allocated once a departure schedule has been arranged.

Fire on board a car carrier berthed at Antwerp, Belgium, destroyed hundreds of used cars due to be shipped to West Africa. The 29,669 dwt car carrier Silver Ray, on charter to Grimaldi Lines, was loaded with 2,900 vehicles. Although the fire was reportedly restricted to decks six through nine, fire-fighters were unable to extinguish it and had to let it burn under controlled conditions. The vessel was declared a total loss soon after and the Maersk Wind was chartered in as a replacement on the Cotonou, Lome, Lagos, Libreville, Luanda service.

Work has begun on the development of East Port Said, part of the Suez Canal Container Terminal. It is a joint venture between ECT of Rotterdam and APM Terminals of Copenhagen. The quay under construction on the east side of the new channel is 1,200m long with a draught of 16.5m. Five ship-shore quay-side cranes and 14 rubber-tyred gantries have been ordered from Italian manufacturers. The new terminal is expected to be operational by October next year.

From July 1, all new-build passenger and cargo vessels must be fitted with Voyage Data Recorders. Similar to an aircraft's 'black box', each VDR will cost up to $70,000 to install.

Eight people, including six children and a pregnant woman, died when M/V Babenzelle sank 25 miles off Gabon in early May. The vessel, carrying 32 passengers, 10 crew and general cargo, was bound for Sao Tome & Principe, 150 miles off West African coast.

The government of DRC has announced plans to reopen the Congo river to commercial traffic between Kisangani and Kinshasa, which has been static for several years since the upper reaches have been controlled by rebel groups. The UN has been instrumental in arrangements to open up the river which is the main supply route to the capital from the interior.

Maersk Sealand is to begin using Port Louis, Mauritius, as a hub centre for its East Africa/Indian Ocean services. Some 200 port calls are expected to be made annually with up to 30,000 TEU containers handled. The line's sister companies, Safmarine and Maersk Logistics already use Port Louis to trans-ship cargoes for La Reunion, Madagascar and East African ports.

Four of Safmarine's 'Big White' container ships have been sold by AP Moller Group to MC Shipping in a charter-back deal, reports Lloyds List. The SA Heldeberg, SA Winterberg, SA Waterberg and SA Sederberg were built between 1977 and 1979 and are nearing the end of their working lives. When introduced, they were the biggest and best of a new generation of 3,100 ETU container ships which also carried many hundreds of passengers between South Africa and Europe.

The French operator Delmas has taken delivery of its largest container ship, the 195m long Marie Delmas, which will serve on the Delmas-OTAL West Africa container service. The first in a series of six new ships, Marie Delmas has capacity for 2,200 TEUs. A total of nine new vessels will be added during the next 12 months. Delmas recently inaugurated a new 11-day service between Singapore and Mombasa, using three 500 TEU ships. The voyage saves eight days over existing services which stop at Indian Ocean islands. The company will extend the range of port calls in East Africa by using a feeder service, as it does from Asian ports to its hub centre at Singapore.
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Author:Ewans, Graeme
Publication:African Business
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Jul 1, 2002
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