Security company Dryad Global has received a report that the Portugal-flagged container ship Tommi Ritscher has been boarded by pirates at the Cotonou Anchorage, Benin, in the Gulf of Guinea.
The pirates boarded the 4,785-TEU vessel from a speed boat which subsequently left the scene when a naval vessel approached, leaving the pirates stranded onboard. Some of the crew are believed to be in the citadel, but Dryad Global indicates that eight may be held by the pirates. Two naval vessels are believed to be at the scene and assistance had been sought from Nigeria who are understood to have dispatched a patrol boat.
This the second incident in the area this year and the fifth in the last 12 months. In February, nine crew were kidnapped from the tanker Alpine Penelope in the waters south of Cotonou. Dryad Global says: “Incidents within the anchorage area have predominantly been limited to suspicious approaches and boarding’s for the purposes of petty theft. The waters off Cotonou and neighboring Lomé have witnessed a number of more serious incidents involving the kidnap of crew at a distance of between 40 – 150 nautical miles.”
Despite overall piracy incidents declining in 2019, there was an alarming increase in crew kidnappings across the Gulf of Guinea, according to the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) annual piracy report released earlier this year. The number of crew kidnapped in the Gulf of Guinea increased more than 50 percent from 78 in 2018 to 121 in 2019. This equated to over 90 percent of global kidnappings reported at sea with 64 crew members kidnapped across six separate incidents in the last quarter of 2019 alone. The region accounted for 64 incidents including all four vessel hijackings that occurred in 2019, as well as 10 out of 11 vessels that reported coming under fire.