UK maritime security firm reports increased piracy by groups south of LNG ship lanes in Gulf of Mexico

Tuesday, 28 July 2020
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UK maritime security consultants, Dryad Global, have reported a growing number of attacks by armed groups against shipping and oil and gas platforms in Mexican waters south of LNG shipping routes in the Gulf of Mexico, a problem previously associated with nations like Somalia.

The latest report from Mexican waters of the GoM said the Mexican-flagged Offshore Supply Vessel “Natalie” was boarded while conducting normal operations in the vicinity of the Odin offshore platform, located 12 nautical miles northeast of Coatzacoalcos, a major port city in the southern part of the Mexican state of Veracruz.

Coatzacoalcos is also a port where future deliveries of US LNG and ethane, derived from shale gas, will be delivered under agreements between US and Mexican companies.

“It is understood that the vessel was boarded early morning within hours of darkness. A channel 16 broadcast received from the vessel stated: ‘we would like to inform you that at this moment pirates are getting on board the ship which is near the Odin’ platform,” said the message monitored by Dryad.

Reports reaching Dryad indicate that the crew was subjected to violent armed boarding and robbery of personal belongings.

Dryad said that in 2020 there has been a “significant increase” in maritime crime and piracy in the waters offshore the Mexican states of Campeche, Tabasco and Veracruz.

The Mexican LNG import terminal at Altamira is just north of the troubled areas where the incidents have taken place.

“Armed criminal groups have been reported to target and rob commercial vessels, oil platforms and offshore supply vessels in the Bay of Campeche area in the southern Gulf of Mexico,” said Dryad.

Such activities were commonplace offshore Somalia in northeast Africa in the 1990s, though on a much larger scale and required the deployment of western naval forces to counter the pirates.

The Somalian piracy problem was depicted in a movie based on the true experiences in 2009 of “Captain Phillips”, master of the US-flagged cargo vessel “Maersk Alabama”, which was hijacked.

The US Maritime Administration recently issued an advisory about possible attacks in the southern GoM, called 2020-008-Southern Gulf of Mexico-Vessel Attacks.

The US report details such events and actions to be taken when faced with threats of piracy and armed robbery.

“The pirates-robbers targeting offshore infrastructure and vessels in this area typically operate in small groups of between 5 and 15 individuals aboard several boats,” said the MARAD advisory.

“The attackers are reportedly armed with an assortment of weapons including assault rifles, shotguns, pistols, machetes, knives and tools,” it added.

“They are known to use violence to ensure compliance and prevent resistance,” it stated.

Around 20 fishing vessels and 35 oil platforms and offshore supply vessels have been targeted since January 2018 in the Bay of Campeche area alone of the southern GoM.

“Attacks recorded to date have involved the discharge of firearms, crew injuries, hostage taking and theft. At least five of these attacks occurred in April 2020,” said the UK report.

The last LNG carrier to come under attack was off West Africa on 28th of December 2019 and that incident was reported by Dryad.

A single speedboat with 10 armed men on-board fired on the “LNG Lokoja”, while the vessel was heading for the Bonny Island export plant in Nigeria.

However, the vessel conducted evasive manoeuvres causing the attack to fail some 70 nautical miles northwest of Sao Tomé and Príncipe, the island nation and former Portuguese colony.

The 148,300 cubic metres capacity vessel was met by the Nigerian Patrol vessel “Defender VI” and the Portuguese Navy vessel “Zaire” and was taken to port under escort.

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