Dryad Global, Channel 16 reporting on 15 December 2019 indicates that the Marshall Islands-flagged MT Duke, an oil/chemical tanker, has been attacked while sailing from Luanda, Angola to Lome, Togo deep offshore. Reporting indicates that the vessel was boarded by 6 pirates while underway resulting in the kidnap of all but one member. It has since been confirmed that 20 Indian crew members have been kidnapped. The one individual believed to have been left aboard is understood to be a Nigerian national.
Dryad Global Analysis
With the confirmation of 20 Indian nationals kidnapped this latest incident represents the largest kidnapping event in West Africa within 2019. This latest incident follows the kidnap of 19 Indian nationals from the Nave Constellation on 4 December 2019. With the latest kidnap of 20 Indian crew off Lomé, this brings the total number of kidnapped Indian personnel within West Africa to 89 since the beginning of this year, thus making Indian nationals the highest volume of kidnapped personnel operating in West Africa. This is however not the largest incident involving the kidnap of Indian personnel, with one larger event originating offshore Benin on 1 February 2018 involving the kidnap of 22 Indian personnel from the MV Marine Express.
This incident is the 10th maritime security incident and 4th kidnapping incident in the waters off Togo within 2019. The last kidnapping off Lomé was on 4 November 2019 and was at the Lomé anchorage 9nm from shore. The MT Duke was boarded, and four personnel were kidnapped, three of which were recently released with the fourth dying from illness while captive. The waters of Togo and Benin have currently experienced a very slight reduction in number of incidents when compared to 2018, however, with 5 kidnaps within 2019 against 0 in 2018 there has been a significant increase in serious maritime crime and there is a direct increase to the risk facing vessel and crews within this area. Current details regarding the specific methodology used are unclear, however, given the significant distance offshore, it is assessed that the pirate action group responsible are highly likely to be using a mothership vessel to aid operations deep offshore. This reflects a broader trend of increase in the number of serious maritime security incidents involving kidnap of personnel beyond the Nigerian EEZ. These incidents are set against a slight downward trend in overall incidents throughout West Africa. It is therefore assessed that the increased effectiveness in policing of the Nigerian EEZ may have created a climate where piratical groups within the region calculate through a rational cost/benefit analysis of the risks, that operations beyond the Nigerian EEZ and specifically those involving kidnapping are preferable to equally high risk but low yield activities such as robbery. There has been a recent increase in kidnappings within the last 18 months against an over-all trend showing a reduction in incidents.
Gulf of Guinea; Togo / Benin
Of interest, in June 2019 the Indian Director General of Shipping in Mumbai sought to place restrictions on Indian Mariners operating on vessels within this region. As Indian mariners represent the largest volume of crew nationalities, a total ban on Indian nationals serving as crew members within the West African region could potentially impact the commercial costs of operating in the region forcing up insurance and increasing personnel costs for technical managers. However, while the first restrictions appear to have been unenforceable, it remains to be seen if India will seek to place further restrictions on their mariners.
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