Piracy on crew and their safety is still a cause for concern and transiting West African waters remains particularly difficult, according to Gard Club. Namely, in the first half of 2019, 73% of all kidnappings at sea, and 92% of hostage-takings happened in the Gulf of Guinea.

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While reports from previous years have shown that most attacks have taken place outside Cameroon waters, the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre has recorded three cases of piracy at Douala anchorage until now in 2019, all involving abduction of crew members.

Now, aiming to improve security for ships calling at Douala Port, Cameroon decided to place armed security teams on board all ships, while they stay at Douala anchorage (pilot station). Specifically, Douala Port Authority stated on 22 August 2019:

  • Shipowners and shipping agents of vessels calling at Douala Port are hereby informed that in view of giving more security to vessels, it has been decided that each vessel at anchorage at Base Buoy (B9) will be provided by an armed security team for their protection;
  • The team will remain onboard the vessel throughout her stay at anchorage and will leave after berthing;
  • This operation will be free of charge and will be conducted for an infinite period.

In addition, according to Gard’s local correspondent in the area, BUDD Group, the new arrangement will limit the administrative delays that arise when completing an application for government armed guards on board.

Namely, in the past, the presence of armed guards on board had to be authorized by the Ministry of Defence and the Presidency of the Republic. Ships that needed the presence of armed guards on board were obliged to authorise their agent to complete the formalities. The process was slow and vessels rarely had the time to complete it.

We recommend ship operators to notify their Masters and crews of the new security arrangements at Douala anchorage. It is important to emphasise that there should be no additional costs associated with any armed guards entering the vessel and that they must collaborate with the security team for the success of the operation

Gard noted.

What is more, BUDD Group added that security alongside in Douala Port is generally satisfactory, it also but highlighted the risk of stowaways.

However, the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre is urging seafarers in the Gulf of Guinea region to “remain vigilant and report all suspicious activity to regional response centres and the IMB”. It also pinpoints that early detection of an approaching suspicious craft is key to avoid boarding and gives time to raise the alarm and retreat into a citadel, if necessary.

For this reason, Gard recommends operators and their masters to exercise caution when operating in the Gulf of Guinea and to:

  • Conduct a voyage specific threat and risk assessments prior to entering the region, review the Ship’s Security Plan and adopt relevant preventive measures, following the Global Counter Piracy Guidance for Companies, Masters and Seafarers and the Interim Guidelines for Owners, Operators and Masters for protection against piracy in the Gulf of Guinea region;
  • Brief the crew on the security arrangements identified in the Ship Security Plan and conduct drills prior to arriving in an area of increased risk. Many attempted piracy and armed robbery attacks are unsuccessful, countered by ships’ crew who have planned and trained in advance;
  • Report to the MEAT-GOG (tel: +33(0)2 98 22 88 88 / e-mail: watchkeepers@mdat-gog.org). A major lesson learnt from operations against piracy and armed robbery to date is the importance of liaison with the military and law enforcement. This is an essential part of self-protection that applies to all ships. Once ships have entered the area of increased risk, it is important that they continue to report while transiting within the area. This will allow the reporting centre to update the ship of any maritime security related incidents or threats in that region;
  • And last but not least, keep a proper, visual lookout! According to the Global Counter Piracy Guidance, this is the most effective method of ship protection. It can help identify a suspicious approach or attack early on, allows defences to be deployed and, can serve as an effective deterrent to would-be attackers.