Tanker fire fight could have been avoided

May 02 2014

The attack on the 2007-built, 7,654 dwt products tanker ‘SP Brussels’ by pirates off Nigeria’s coast, which resulted in one seafarer being killed, could have been avoided, maritime security firm GoAGT said.

The Medallion Reedererei-managed tanker was attacked off Nigeria, during the evening of 29th April, as the ship sailed from Port Harcourt to Lagos. 

It was reported that the crew retreated to the citadel but two merchant seamen were unable to reach it. One of them was found dead during a search of the vessel and the second one was found hiding with minor injuries. Two of the attackers were killed during the exchange of gunfire with guards on board.

Nick Davis, GoAGT CEO, said: “This is a recognised high risk area. It is hugely important that shipping companies recognise the risks they are facing when in the Gulf of Guinea. The criminal gangs are well armed and will stop at nothing. Poorly trained, locally employed and under manned armed security teams are no match for the threat they are facing.

“While it is reported that the ‘Brussels’ had a citadel for the crew to shelter in, this can only be an effective and valid part of the vessels defence if the security team and the crew have trained hard in anti-piracy and citadel drills. This requires a security team that has a thorough knowledge of the ship and has established highly effective communications and co-ordination procedures with the crew. Only this way will they maintain an effective lookout that allows all the crew to react in time and achieve shelter in the citadel.

“In this case, it would appear that the locally employed armed security team were unable to secure all crew members in the citadel and one of the two unfortunate crew members who failed to make sanctuary was subsequently killed by the pirates. This was a very sad outcome and not one that any civilian merchant sailor should have to be subjected to in the normal course of a working day,” he said.

The incident happened just days after the Obangame Express 2014 maritime exercise concluded on 23rd April, which was aimed at providing African, European and Atlantic partner naval forces the opportunity to work together, refine tactics and improve co-operation in order to help Gulf of Guinea nations deter piracy and other maritime threats.

Davis warned: "With the end of this exercise it is likely we will see a drawdown in the active presence of the Nigerian Navy, perhaps allowing greater opportunity for maritime crime activity. Even during the exercise there were three incidents of piracy reported. This is certainly not the time for the shipping industry to relax its guard."

According to the Equasis database,‘SP Brussels’ flies the Marshall Islands flag and is classed with ClassNK. Her P&I club was reported to be Skuld.

GoAGT also recently carried out a maritime security survey in which nearly 50% of the shipping companies who took part said that they would only employ ISO/PAS 28007 certified companies.

Results indicated that nearly 50% of the organisations that responded think that ISO/PAS 28007 is an important factor when selecting a PMSC. The survey also indicated that quality of service ranked first among the key factors considered by shipping companies for selecting a PMSC, followed by reputation and price.

Gerry Northwood OBE, GoAGT COO, said: “While it is quite right that price is still an important factor when selecting a PMSC, it is good to see the industry is complementing this with a focus on quality of service. ISO/PAS 28007 will become more relevant in the future as it can only guarantee a more professional and regulated industry base.”

“International standards should be broadly adopted, especially at an EU level, where there are plenty of national regulations. With ISO/PAS 28007, we have an international standard and flag states should recognise this in order to sift the good from the bad, and to reduce the cost to the shipping companies,” he concluded. 

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