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Piracy, LNG and staying safe at sea

Wed 15 Mar 2017 by Karen Thomas

Piracy, LNG and staying safe at sea

Piracy is back in the headlines this week, after an LNG carrier was attacked off Nigeria on Friday and after the first major hijacking in five years off the coast of Somalia, with the seizure on Monday of the oil tanker Aris 13.

Armed men approached Aris 13 in two skiffs and boarded the tanker, as it departed from Djibouti loaded with fuel, heading for the Port of Mogadishu. The Somali gang is demanding a ransom to release Aris 13 and its eight Sri Lankan seafarers.

The tanker is owned by Marshall Islands-registered Armi Shipping and operated by United Arab Emirates-based Aurora Ship Management. VesselsValue tracking data shows the vessel's position this morning, below. 

That incident followed the unsuccessful attack on the LNG carrier La Mancha Knutsen on the other side of Africa. La Mancha Knutsen came under fire 90 miles south of Port Harcourt in Nigeria. Armed men, again in a skiff, opened fire and tried to board the 176,300m³ vessel using a ladder.

La Mancha Knutsen’s master reacted quickly, increasing his sailing speed, and the ship escaped without damage or injury to its crew.

That attack was the second incident in less than six months involving an LNG carrier, however. In October, the Teekay LNG-owned Galicia Spirit came under attack from a rocket-propelled grenade off Yemen, as it sailed between the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.

The threat of piracy is terrifying for seafarers – as well as for shipowners and their insurers. Pirate gangs are well-armed and organised, as this video from 2010 of the hijacking of the German-owned container ship Taipan shows all too well.

NATO ended its naval operation off the Horn of Africa in December and the reaction this week from private security firms has been to urge shipowners to step up their security and to deploy armed guards.

Risk-management consultancy MAST describes Aris 13 as “a soft target”. It says that Somalia’s pirate gangs will regroup if they see that international shipping is vulnerable.

However, Oceans Beyond Piracy says Monday’s attack highlights growing anger in coastal villages over illegal trawling by international ships in Somali waters as east Africa faces its worst famine in a generation.

It is too early to say whether this week’s two attacks indicate a resurgence in armed attacks on global shipping. Recent years have seen the decline in piracy off Somalia offset by growth in fuel-related thefts in South East Asia and in attacks off West Africa.

Piracy takes different forms in different regions. Clearly, shipowners must be informed and vigilant. But are armed guards the answer for LNG shipowners? La Mancha Knutsen ship operator Knutsen OAS thinks not.

“For the time being, we are not changing anything,” a spokesman told LNG World Shipping. “However, we will monitor the situation in the region on a daily basis.”

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