Violence Against Shippers New Norm Off West Africa

Published February 14, 2012 5:27PM (EST)

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — The waters off West Africa's coast are now a constant danger for those shipping goods and crude oil in the region, analysts said Tuesday, a day after pirates killed two sailors near Nigeria's coast.

Despite pledges by nations to patrol the waters of the Gulf of Guinea, pirates killed a captain and a chief engineer onboard a heavy cargo ship Monday morning about 110 nautical miles (126 miles) from the coast of Lagos, Nigeria's commercial capital.

While shootings and stabbings have happened before in the region, Monday's assault was one of the deadliest attacks in waters now considered to be as dangerous as those near Somalia. And such attacks are likely to continue.

"It's quite uncommon that you have people killed this way," said Thomas Horn Hansen, an analyst with Risk Intelligence based in London. "It might be a matter of luck that hasn't happened before."

Authorities released new details Tuesday about the attack. Commodore Kabir Aliyu, a Nigerian naval spokesman, identified the attacked ship as the Fourseas SW, a bulk cargo ship designed to carry heavy loads like sand.

An official at Fortuna Chartering A/S in Denmark, which manages the vessel, said it was owned by Shih Wei Navigation Co. Ltd. of Taiwan. The man, who declined to give his name, said the Fourseas had been under contract to an Indian company at the time of the attack.

The nationalities of those killed in the attack could not immediately be determined Tuesday. Calls to Shih Wei went unanswered Tuesday.

The International Maritime Bureau, a piracy watchdog group, said most of the ship's crew into a secured room as a gunfight raged, while those on the bridge remained at their posts. The captain and chief engineer died of their wounds as the pirates sprayed the ship with gunfire, said Cyrus Mody, an official at the bureau.

The attack on the Fourseas comes after a cargo ship about 70 nautical miles (80 miles) from Lagos came under attack Saturday from two boats and a vessel off nearby Benin was hijacked Thursday, the maritime bureau said.

The attacks are just the latest to target West Africa's Gulf of Guinea, which follows the continent's southward curve from Liberia to Gabon. Over the last year, piracy there has escalated from low-level armed robberies to hijackings and cargo thefts.

In August, London-based Lloyd's Market Association — an umbrella group of insurers — listed Nigeria, neighboring Benin and nearby waters in the same risk category as Somalia, where two decades of war and anarchy have allowed piracy to flourish.

Pirates in West Africa have been more willing to use violence in their robberies, as they target the cargo, not the crew for kidnapping like off Somalia. Analysts say many of the pirates come from Nigeria, where corrupt law enforcement allows criminality to thrive.

Hansen said Monday's attack was a concern for shippers, who have been advised by trade groups to exercise extreme caution around Nigeria and Benin. However, he said it's unclear whether the killings were an anomaly or a sign of things to come.

"Nigerian piracy tends to develop very quickly and change very quickly," he said. "It's very hard to say whether this is going to be a trend."


Jon Gambrell can be reached at

By Salon Staff

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