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When Pirates Attack: Maritime Insecurity Persists in the Gulf of Guinea

Markus Korhonen 6 May 2020
6 May 2020    Markus Korhonen

Global Kidnap Bulletin | May 2020

In this edition of the Global Kidnap Bulletin, we look at how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected a variety of travel security threats, we analyse the uptick of kidnappings in Haiti, highlight some of the difficulties of evacuation amid worldwide travel restrictions, look at how the nature of the insurgency in northern Mozambique might be changing, and draw out some of the key features of the ongoing piracy threat in the Gulf of Guinea.

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As has been the case for several years, the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) was the world’s piracy hotspot in the first quarter of 2020, despite a slight decrease in incidents compared to the same period in 2019. Between January and March, 21 attacks were reported to the International Maritime Bureau in the GoG, with some recorded incidents having taken place more than 100 nautical miles (NM) from the coast. Attackers will generally approach ships in high-powered speed boats and board vessels to steal equipment, electronics and crew members’ belongings, among other items, or to abduct crew members for ransom.


All vessel types are at risk of attack, though international crews appear to be favoured as kidnapping targets, presumably as they are perceived as drawing higher ransom. Some reporting indicates that ransom demands can range between USD 18,000 and USD 500,000 per person, however vessel hijacking as was seen off East African waters some years previously is rare. Perpetrators are usually armed and motivated by financial reward, and most attackers are based in Nigeria even if incidents take place off the coastal waters of other West African states. With West African countries hampered by bureaucratic hurdles and lacking the resources and training to enact a coordinated response, piracy in the GoG is likely to remain a persistent threat. We pull together some key numbers, and provide brief accounts of some typical incidents.


World’s Piracy Hotspot



  • 19 April 2020: Pirates attacked the container ship Tommi Ritscher at the Cotonou Anchorage in Benin. When Beninese and Nigerian security forces boarded the ship on 21 April, 11 crew were sheltered in the citadel while eight had been taken hostage by the pirates. The attackers managed to board the ship despite ongoing patrolling by Beninese and Nigerian naval ships in the proximity of the anchorage.


  • 21 March 2020: Nigerian pirates boarded the Equatorial Guinea-flagged passenger vessel, Elobey VI, while it was  transiting between Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. The assailants forced the crew to sail toward Nigeria. Three of the six crew members were kidnapped. On 23 March, the vessel was released off Bonny Island.


  • 22 March 2020: Pirates boarded the container vessel, MSC Talia F, off the coast of Gabon, while it was sailing from Lome, Togo to Libreville, Gabon. The assailants kidnapped seven of the 17 Ukrainian crew members.

S-RM is a global risk consultancy providing intelligence, resilience and response solutions to clients worldwide. To discuss this article or other industry developments, please reach out to one of our experts.

Markus Korhonen
Markus korhonen ASSOCIATE, CRISIS MANAGEMENT Email Markus


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