September 2017 saw a substantial increase in the number of piracy incidents recorded in the Niger Delta region. A total of eight incidents (five hijackings and three attacks) were recorded, an increase on the three and six incidents recorded in August and July 2017 respectively.
According to data collected by NYA24, all eight incidents were concentrated within 30 nautical miles (NM) of the Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross River state coastlines. Additionally, all eight incidents recorded involved high levels of violence and targeted commercial vessels.
HIGH VALUE ROLES
While the global downturn in commodity prices is tempers the incentive to steal cargo, pirate and criminal groups are instead diversifying revenue through kidnap for ransom – particularly captains and chief engineers, who hold a perceived higher value.
In September’s most high-profile incident, on 26 September a chemical tanker was boarded by pirates 30NM off Bayelsa state. The captain and chief engineer were kidnapped and taken to the Niger Delta. According to open sources, ransom demands for crewmembers kidnapped in the region are high and range up to $5 million (USD) per person.
THREAT WITHIN THE WATERWAYS
Six of the eight incidents recorded in September occurred within the Niger Delta internal waterways of Bayelsa, Rivers and Akwa Ibom states. This is part of an ongoing shift in modus operandi by Nigerian pirate groups away from perpetrating attacks further offshore. This change has been initiated by three key factors: the increased effectiveness of the Nigerian Navy in patrolling Nigerian waters and raiding pirate hideouts in the Delta, changing navigational routes in response to the piracy threat and challenging sea conditions during summer months that make attacks offshore more difficult.
The complex geography of the Niger Delta enables pirate groups to remain hidden and hold abducted crewmembers for an extended duration. Despite sustained Nigerian Navy activity in the region as part of Operation DELTA SAFE, pirate groups still use the nexus of waterways since it remains the best opportunity to conduct illicit activity while remaining undetected by security forces. Pirate groups with the capability and ambition to carry out activity further offshore are likely to do so in the coming months as sea conditions improve, allowing operations as far as approximately 190NM offshore.