An unnamed oil tanker with Cyprus registration and its crew of 23, was released this weekend, after pirates who had seized the vessel and crew transferred the ship's transported oil to a tanker they controlled. The vessel was originally seized off the coast of Benin.
COMMENT: The Spanish Foreign Ministry acknowledged after the ship's release that five of the crew members aboard the seized vessel were Spaniards. No information was released in terms of whether a ransom demands was paid; however, unlike Somalian pirates, those working the coast of West Africa appear to be primarily focused on stealing crude oil and selling it to the highest bidders on the black market. Benin, which borders Nigeria, Africa's largest oil producer, has seen a steep increase in hijackings this year, with 19 ships coming under attack. Of the 19, eight vessels were hijacked, nine were boarded and there were unsuccessful attempts to attack two others.
Several Spanish ships, mostly tuna trawlers, have been targeted by pirates in recent years off the coast of Africa. In October 2009, a tuna trawler was seized by pirates more than 550 kilometers (340 miles) off the Somali coast with a crew of 16 Spaniards and eight Indonesians, as well as 12 African nationals. All were released safe and sound 47 days later after a ransom of four million dollars had been paid.
As I have said in the past, maritime pirating continues to be a growth industry because the majority of ship owners and operators fail to adequately protect their vessels and crews. On the one hand, there is little concern for crews' welfare, yet when a ship and its crew are hijacked on the open seas, their underwriting costs rise dramatically. Such a practice makes little sense.