Mzansi Afrika

From Johannesburg South Africa, a window on the world

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum

When I think about pirates, I think Captain Hook, Blackbeard and the olden days of adventuring on the high seas of the Carribbean. Yet, according to an article by AFP, piracy is alive and well and flourishing off the coast of Africa.

Foreign sailors working in Africa's sea-lanes face increasing danger from attacks by heavily armed pirates. In anchorages, estuaries and even on the high seas, gangs are hijacking vessels, robbing, beating and kidnapping their crews and costing the industry millions of dollars in insurance, lost cargoes and ransom payments.

Nigeria seems to be particularly troubled by this problem. Last year attacks in their waters tripled in number and became more and more violent.

Most at risk are oil industry vessels working in the coastal swamps west of the port of Warri, where in April two US oilmen were gunned down by pirates; and in the waters off Lagos, where cargo ships can wait weeks to unload.

In case you're wondering, the modern day modus operandi is as follows:

In a typical raid, pirates armed with knives and AK-47 assault rifles will surround a ship in speedboats and force it to halt. Shots will be fired, with gunmen targeting the windows of the bridge in order to force the crew to drop anchor. Once aboard, the pirates beat the crew and loot the ship. Often, they then kidnap international seamen.In many cases -- for example after an April 15, 2003 attack on a supply vessel in the Niger Delta in which 16 sailors were kidnapped -- ship operators end up having to pay a huge ransom to free their crews.

Just like in the times of old there have been furious battles on the high seas, ... well ok, shootouts along the rivers.

The Nigerian navy takes the problem of piracy seriously -- on June 5 a naval patrol killed at least 17 pirates in a gun battle on the creeks near Warri -- but like most African fleets has limited resources to cope with the problem.

Waters off Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia and Guinea have also been affected. Anyone up for a movie script?


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