Increased piracy threatens West Africa’s offshore oil storage

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PIC 11. a vessel mv sea express laden with some 2,500 tones of crude impounded by joint task force in the niger delta, operation pulo shield at okuboto creek in bayelsa state. On Sunday (21/4/13)

…Troops nab oil bunkering syndicate
…Uncover 48 illegal refineries in Niger-Delta states

As international oil companies (IOCs) grapple with a historic plunge in crude prices, a rise in piracy is also poised to threaten supply chains.

Given the recent collapse in global oil prices due to falling demand, experts anticipate that pirates are likely to attempt to board static tankers used as offshore storage facilities for unsold production. The ships’ crews and cargo represent “ideal and relatively simple targets for pirates.”

The indiscriminate nature of abductions means pirates are likely to target IOCs’ supply chains and oil shipments leaving export terminals in the Niger Delta.

The Gulf of Guinea, a key production hub surrounded by eight oil exporting countries in West Africa, has emerged as a global hot spot, accounting for 21 attacks so far this year and 90% of all kidnappings at sea in 2019. The first quarter of 2020 saw a spike in piracy around the world, with 47 attacks compared to 38 for the same period last year, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).

Most attacks still occur in Nigerian waters, but piracy is expected to rise in 2020 and 2021 and expand further into neighboring states, posing serious concerns for shipping and international oil companies, according to research by political risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.

The number of crew kidnapped off the Gulf of Guinea climbed 50% to 121 in 2019, up from 78 in 2018, and the Gulf has now surpassed more well-known areas such as the Strait of Malacca – a waterway which separates Malaysia and Singapore from Indonesia – to become the global hotspot.

“This trend will continue into 2020 and into 2021 as regional security forces, hampered by security hot spots across the continent, and a lack of adequate equipment, continue to be unable to effectively tackle piracy,” Alexandre Raymakers, senior Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, said in a research note.

“The prospect of international assistance is equally remote as international shipping routes avoid the Gulf of Guinea. Both regional shipping and oil and gas operators should expect further disruptions to supply chains, export routes and increased costs as more ransom payments will be necessary to liberate crews.”

Around 60% of incidents in 2019 occurred in Nigerian territorial waters, specifically in the areas surrounding the Niger Delta and, to a lesser extent, the shipping hub of the Port of Lagos. Raymakers highlighted that the socio-economic factors underpinning these incidents were unlikely to change.

“Driven by their experience fighting in the Delta’s secessionist armed groups and embittered by their lack of access to the oil riches around them, the region will remain an abundant reservoir for budding pirates,” he added.

While pirates traditionally limited their operations to raiding oil tankers in order to sell their hold on the black market, the collapse of oil prices in 2015 forced them to alter their strategy, refocusing their efforts on abducting crews for ransom, Raymakers highlighted.

Unlike their Somali counterparts, pirates in the Delta do not have use of secured ports or beaching areas for captured ships, which limits their ability to hold a vessel or its contents for ransom and means operators in the region therefore rarely lose ships or cargo. However, they do face delays and increased costs due to the disappearance of the ship’s crews and subsequent ransom payments.

“IOCs like Shell, ExxonMobil, Total, Chevron and Eni operating out of Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria are particularly at risk of experiencing sporadic yet highly disruptive instances of piracy in their supply chains,” Raymakers said.

“While many have learned lessons from developing comprehensive security structures in order to protect their assets and personnel in Nigeria, smaller supply and service companies will be highly exposed to expanding piracy risks.”

Meanwhile, according to a statement released by the Coordinator, Defence Media Operations, Defence Headquarters, Major General John Enenche on Tuesday, Troops of Sector 3, Operation DELTA SAFE conducted raid on four Illegal refining sites along Dema Abby – Oputumbi – Nanabie – Promise Land – Otobie and Ogono general area.

Items discovered and appropriately handled, include seven boilers, nine storage tanks, eight metal tanks, one dugout reservoir all filled with stolen crude oil, eight metal tanks, 18 metal drums, 11 reservoir tanks filled with illegally refined AGO and Dual Purpose Kerosene (DPK). Also, two empty Cotonou boats, one generator set, one pumping machine, two welding machines, one filing machine, rolls of hose, and one speedboat mounted with 75 HP engine (use for illegal bunkering activities) were also discovered within the sites.

Similarly, on 23 April 2020, acting on a tip off, Nigerian Navy Ship PATHFINDER patrol team intercepted and arrested three Barges (MV Rock 1, JULIANAH and an unnamed barge) laden with illegally refined Automotive Gas Oil (AGO) at AGIP waterfront for suspected involvement in illegal bunkering activities. The Team also arrested another barge laden with suspected stolen crude oil around Okochiri River entrance.

Relatedly, on 25 April 2020, following intelligence report, troops of Headquarters Operation DELTA SAFE discovered and appropriately handled an Illegal refining site at Uzere community at Ughelli North LGA of Delta State.

Additionally, on 23 April 2020, Troops of Sector 2 Operation DELTA SAFE deployed along KCTL pipeline at Odau Community in Abua/Odual LGA of Rivers State arrested 3 suspected pipeline vandals around Shell Petroleum Development Company pipeline.

Overall, a total of three weapons were recovered, 48 illegal refineries, 28 surface metal storage tanks, 60 cooking ovens and 18 Cotonou boats amongst others were discovered while about 58,500 liters of DPK, 11, 750 liters of PMS, 855,900 liters of AGO and an estimated 1, 507,000 liters of crude oil were seized by troops.

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