Hijacking, piracy, armed robbery at sea, Gulf of Guinea (GoG), Crisis Management Team (CMT)


This article is a distillation of the dissertation submitted for the author’s MSc in Maritime Operations and Management at City, University of London, submitted in 2019.

In the summer of 2019, a Bulk Carrier of 22,000GT with a complement of 21 crew members was at anchor within the territorial waters of a Gulf of Guinea coastal state, 2.5 n.m. from the breakwater entrance to the port, awaiting daylight so the ship could enter the port and commence the discharge of its cargo. At midnight with all the regular security measures in force for the anchorage area, a group of armed men boarded the ship and proceeded to kidnap nine seamen. The kidnappers abducted the nine-crew comprising the ship’s Master, Chief Engineer, Third Officer, Third Engineer, Chief Cook, and four ratings, all of them Filipinos. It was later proven the kidnappers came from a neighbouring state, and during their captivity, the nine men were held on a small island off the borders of the two states.  All parties concerned were informed of the incident, and a company specialised in negotiating was appointed. The nine hostages were finally released after 41 days in captivity. Piracy affects shipping for centuries, with some periods of peace. It has returned more robust and aggressive, profoundly affecting shipping in specific geographical areas, exposing maritime trade and the seafarers’ lives in danger.

From 2008 to 2012, piracy off the coast of East Africa drew the attention of the global community. The measures taken have suppressed piracy, and the incidents have dramatically reduced. On the other hand, piracy and kidnapping incidents in the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa have risen over the past years. The global community seems to tolerate the insecurity in the area, and only a few measures by the European Union and the United States have been introduced. The regional countries have announced measures, so did the continental African Union organisation and some local states individually, but all these efforts seem to be un-synchronised, and the actions of one party disorientate the others. The causation of piracy is not at sea: it is ashore. The spotlights of the initiatives should focus on the mainland. The global community has the expertise, experience, and mechanisms to fight this ancient crime.

Both the academic and maritime communities have numerous papers about countering piracy, but none that the author has found is based on the details of one incident; they tend to focus on theoretical aspects. The author, being a permanent member of the Crisis Management Team of a shipping company, endured the hijacking of a vessel under its management in the Gulf of Guinea, and part of the vessel’s crew was taken hostage and moved ashore into the criminals’ hideout. It then became a race against time involving specialised negotiators, the P&I Club of the ship, and a PMSC to negotiate the ransom and its delivery and release of the crew as quickly as possible.

Apart from the first-hand experience of being part of the Crisis Management Team for more than 40-days and nights of a ship hijacking and hostage negotiation process, the author has researched the background widely to piracy and specifically its impact in West Africa.  He interviewed members of the crew held hostage and spoken with experts in the field.

The principal reason for writing the dissertation and this article was to share the experiences and insights of a hijacking in the Gulf of Guinea, from the perspective of a shipping company with ships visiting the Gulf of Guinea on a regular basis, so that others may learn from the experiences and hopefully prepare seafarers more effectively for this maritime peril.

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