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Monday, September 26, 2011

Does reality of occurrence change with the place : Piracy Off Benin.

Underwriting is the art of evaluating the various risk factors of the proposal and in deciding whether to accept the risk and if so, decide on the insuring terms and conditions and then on the rates.  The job of the Marine Underwriter is much more complicated as he is expected to know – the traits of the subject matters, the risk factors associated with it, the transport and the transporter, the package, the political and geographical conditions to where the goods are destined for, the voyage and risks thereof, of the happenings of the World and much more…… all in a short time and some of the aspects are ever changing… really challenging indeed !

When a cargo laden vessel is attacked and captured – can there be any difference to the victim based on the geography of the occurrence.  There appears something  -  it is thought that there is perceived difference between piracy off the West African coast and that off the north-east coast of Africa.

One need not be a Marine Insurer to know the regular occurrences of Piracy – now almost synonymous with Somalia and Gulf of Aden – but Piracy is not restricted to Somalia alone as the Listed areas of Joint War Committee includes Africa (Djbouti, Eritrea, Ivory Coast, Libya, Nigeria, Somalia); defined waters of Indian Ocean; Pakistan, Georgia, Indonesia / Malaysia (specified); parts of Middle East (Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Qatar, Yemen, Saudi Arabia); South America (Venezuela) …. {Not the exhaustive list…}  If the Joint War Committee names a Country in their list, it shall include their coastal waters upto 12 nautical miles off shore….

The threat of piracy has been at its peak in the Gulf of Aden, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, for several years, prompting world powers to send their navies to safeguard international trade. In a recent revision in Aug 2011, The London Joint War Committee (JWC)  added Benin in West Africa to its list, permitting insurers to charge more for cover if vessels travel through the waters off the country.  That was prompted by the surge in incidents of  piracy in the Bight of Benin in recent months.   Marine insurers extended a war-risk zone for Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer, and included waters off neighboring Benin for the first time as piracy attacks increase.  This declaration would allow the Underwriters to charge additional premium based on the value of ships entering the area. 


There have been suspicions that a particular group with focus on oil is operating in this area targetting especially tankers.  Benin otherwise may not be much in International news.  It is situated just to the west of Nigeria, the largest oil producer in that province. 
Republic of Benin, is a country in West Africa bordering Togo to the west, Nigeria to the east and Burkina Faso and Niger to the north. Its small southern coastline on the Bight of Benin is where a majority of the population is located. The capital of Benin is Porto-Novo, but the seat of government is located in the country's largest city of Cotonou.  Alongside Benin was added Gulf of Guinea but only the waters of Beninese and Nigerian EEZ north of Latitude 3°N. The Gulf of Guinea is the northeasternmost part of the tropical Atlantic Ocean between Cape Lopez in Gabon, north and west to Cape Palmas in Liberia.

There were incidents of Pirates (not the Somalis) but other groups active near Benin.  With increased incidence of such assaults, the  waters off the small nation of Benin appear to have become particularly risky due to the country’s weak enforcement capabilities..    On 14th Sept 2011  00:17 UTC, the NORTHERN BELL was attacked and boarded by armed pirates during STS operations while drifting in approx position 05 40 34 N, 01 31 07 E, 67.4nm SW of Cotonou Port, Benin on bearing 053. The Tanker was engaged in STS operations when boarded by armed pirates. The Master activated their SSAS and the crew went into the engine room and contacted the CSO. A short time later the pirates abandoned the Northern Bell. 

 Vessel photo – courtesy : geolocations.ws
On the same day off the coast of Benin pirates attacked and captured  MT  Mattheos I laden with oil, during the transfer of its cargo to a Norwegian-flagged vessel. The Cyprus flagged tanker had 23 crew with  Filipino ratings and Spanish, Peruvian and Ukrainian officers.  Chemical tanker Mattheos I IMO 9281554, dwt 45557, built 2004, flag Cyprus, manager Songa Ship Management, UK.

The misfortune was relative… Somalis keep vessels for long time extending even a year and demand huge ransoms.. this Chemical tanker was released with Pirates making no demands for a ransom !  They however, ransacked the ship's crew quarters and robbed the crew of their possessions while also draining away some of the ship’s fuel oil.   That perhaps is the difference between piracy off the West African coast and that off the north-east coast of Africa. The motive appears to have been robbery and not piracy for purposes of ransoming the ship.  There are some theories that  the pirates or robbers came from Nigeria although the actual attack took place off Benin, which has been the scene of a number of attacks on ships in recent weeks.

So the good news is Spanish tanker Mattheos I was released without any payment of ransom and its crew reportedly is fine.  The ship reportedly is now sailing to the coasts of Nigeria.   Sure they sailors would have undergone great ordeal – that is part of their sailing life….

With regards
S. Sampathkumar.

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