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West Africa and Misinformation in Maritime Security

By | Company News

When discussing crime statistics, it is rare that figures are published on a worldwide scale. It does not accurately reflect the reality on the ground of the risk of crime in particular areas, and generalises too much. In a similar vein, global figures on piracy do not reflect regional realities. The recent report from the ICC IMB reported the lowest number of incidents since 1995, which gives a positive impression of the state of maritime security.

However, even though global figures of maritime crime suggest a downward trend, including in the Gulf of Guinea, numbers alone do not accurately reflect the level of risk. If there are 100 security incidents in year 1, and only 50 incidents in year 2, then this would be described as a “downward trend”. However, if the 100 incidents in year 1 are relatively minor (such as attempted robbery at anchor), and the 50 incidents in year 2 are major, more violent incidents (including hijacking of vessels or kidnap of crew for ransom), then despite the decrease in the number of incidents, the threat has actually increased.

An additional issue arises in how the industry defines incidents. An “attempted boarding” could describe 2 types of maritime security incident: either an attempt in an anchorage by two unarmed persons in a small canoe trying to climb up an anchor chain; or an attack whilst underway at 13kts 40nm offshore by a fast skiff with up to ten persons on board armed with AK47s. In the first, it would usually be stopped by an alert crew raising the alarm. In the second, a seafarer risks being shot at if seen by the pirates.

This misinformation leads to a false sense of security in shipping. With shipping using security in anchorages (either a private-run “secure” anchorage, or embarked local Navy guards), it seems that the main risk would be in the anchorages. However, in Lagos and Lomé (the two ports that see the largest use of additional security as mentioned above) there has not been a major incident for several years, with all incidents (or attempts) being robbery of ship’s belongings or small-scale cargo theft. And yet, since March 2017 and including incidents on local passenger and commercial craft and the two recent hijacks off Benin, ARC has recorded 155 seafarers kidnapped in the region.

Are security services within anchorages therefore “only” stopping what could be considered lower-level incidents? Incidents such as robbery of ship’s valuables, small-scale cargo theft or stowaways, that could be stopped with a well trained crew and alert watch keeping. From the number of incidents south of Bonny and Brass, Nigeria, arguably the real threat to merchant shipping is deeper offshore – up to 70nm offshore. And yet, because of the lack of useful information for shipping, ships continue to operate in the region without additional security measures such as effective crew security training. This should be considered the minimum security requirement, as it can be applied on a global level (Indian Ocean, South East Asia, Venezuela, Bangladesh – all areas that also suffer from maritime insecurity), and in Nigeria ships have also been attacked once the escort vessel has departed.

Based on ARC’s reports, the Gulf of Guinea over the last 12 months (March 2017 – present day) has seen 102 incidents in Nigerian waters, 21 incidents in Lagos anchorages and port and 57 incidents offshore Nigeria (outside all anchorages, ports and rivers). Since the start of February 2018, there have been 6: 1 boarding in Lagos anchorage, 1 robbery in Takoradi anchorage, a hijack in Cotonou anchorage, and 3 attacks south/south west of Bonny, Nigeria. Of these 3 incidents, 2 vessels had embarked Nigerian Navy guards and both vessels were reported as safe. The most recent one of the 9th February resulted in 4 crew members being kidnapped. The vessel had no additional security.

Whilst we realise all of the above could be labelled as “fear-mongering”, it should be also noted that the shipping companies that regularly operate in Nigerian waters (both local Nigerian companies and foreign) take security, usually embarked Nigerian Navy guards. Why? As well as it being the most cost effective and operationally flexible solution, it is because they know the country, know the risks and understand the threat to their vessels. Shipping and the associations such as member organisations and flag state administrations should take note of those who know the area best, which are fellow shipping companies.

This article originally appeared as a LinkedIn article

The case for maritime security training

By | Company News

Maritime security covers more than anti-piracy measures, and crews should be prepared for all the risks that they may face.

The last 12 months have seen an increase in reported maritime security incidents, including the return of Somalia- based piracy on merchant ships in the Indian Ocean, the consistently violent threat of piracy and terrorism in the Philippines and the surrounding area, and on-going issues in the Niger Delta, putting all types of vessels transiting the West African coastal waters at risk. However, all of these only take into account one side of ‘maritime security’ as an issue; that of violent attacks on the vessel and its crew for the purpose of kidnap for ransom, underpinned by unresolved conflicts and disenfranchised populations on land.

Maritime security is far broader a subject than these headline- grabbing issues. It encompasses various other physical threats encountered by the shipping industry as vessels transit the globe, including stowaways, local corruption and opportunistic robbery in ports. South America in particular has seen high levels of armed robbery in Venezuela and Peru. These are all problems that ship operators, P&I clubs, charterers and agents must deal with, sometimes on a daily basis. However, there is one group of people who deal with it on a face-to-face basis: ships’ Masters and their crews.

Is there a need for training?

Security regulations have been part of everyday life in shipping ever since the introduction of the ISPS Code. However, any plans or procedures are solely reliant on the people that are (or are not) enacting them. Unlike safety training, security training is not mandatory. And yet, a crew equipped and trained to deal with maritime security threats of all types is a crew that is confident going about their tasks on board, and can complete them efficiently and to the best of their ability.

Security training should not be seen as an additional cost to the shipping industry, but as something that will increase efficiency
on board and give crews confidence in dealing with the threats. Ultimately, it could save the shipping industry money by countering threats in a cost effective and early manner, as opposed to hoping the worst does not happen, and then ultimately paying much more for it if it does. This is particularly the case when dealing with stowaways, where costs can reach tens of thousands of dollars.

This is not to say that crews should be armed. Additional armed security personnel are warranted only where there is a direct threat to the lives of seafarers, typically in the case of piracy. However, the other areas of maritime security (dealing with stowaways, local corruption, cyber security and robbery in ports) do not pose an immediate direct threat to the lives of seafarers. Crew training can greatly mitigate these risks and threats without the deployment of additional security personnel.


Stowaways are one of the oldest problems in transport infrastructure. Current migration patterns caused by conflicts and environmental problems mean the situation shows no sign of improving in the near future. Despite attempts to combat the problem by some local port and maritime authorities, such as Ghana and Ivory Coast, stowaways continue to cost the shipping industry millions of dollars every year, not just in repatriation and immigration fees, but also in damage to vessels and cargo. An understanding of what makes a vessel an attractive prospect for a stowaway will immediately reduce the chances of unauthorised access. The steps taken to make it ‘unattractive’ will also have the effect of reducing the chance of robbery whilst in port. These include a visibly alert crew, good hardening and well-run watch schedules.


There have been efforts to counteract local corruption, including the excellent work being done by the Maritime Anti-Corruption Network. Training crew to deal with solicitations and threats can introduce a proactive approach that will help remove opportunities for corruption, thereby reducing the instances of this problem.

Physical and psychological aspects

Ideally, two aspects of security should be covered during training: both physical and psychological. ‘Physical’ security covers the implementation of vessel hardening measures such as razor wire, security gates, citadel creation (if required) and barring of windows. ‘Psychological’ security means ensuring the crew are aware of threats and preparing them to deal with them. Corrupt officials, stowaways and robbers rely on crews that are not alert, so that they can either sneak on board due to lack of effective watch routines or can take advantage of crews that are far from home and easily intimidated.

ARC saw this first hand in 2016, when we were requested to provide stowaway training to the crew of a vessel which regularly calls at West Africa, and which had recently experienced multiple stowaway boardings during one transit to the region. While the majority of the day-long training focused on hardening the vessel against unauthorised access and on search techniques, a significant part of the question and answer session and walk around with the crew was spent advising on how to deal with local officials and stevedores who had made life difficult during previous transits, including requesting extra cash and being uncooperative when the crew refused. This demonstrated the breadth of problems that crews in this region, and others worldwide, have to deal with.

Be alert!

An inattentive crew, unobstructed and easy access to the vessel, and visible nervousness, make a vessel a tempting prospect for all maritime security threats. A visibly alert crew with well-run watch schedules, security measures that are well maintained and visible to the outside observer, and confidence when dealing with local officials will immediately show that this is a vessel that will be difficult to access, with a crew who are confident in their abilities to deal with any problems. In an industry that is trying to reduce costs, and at the same time trying to modernise itself against the threats towards its people and assets, security training is the most effective way of doing so, both in terms of cost and operational effectiveness.

This article originally appeared in Seaways