Hijackings highlight piracy dangers for shipping operators

08 February 2018: Inmarsat helped trace two oil tankers hijacked by pirates off the coast of West Africa.

UK-based operator Union Maritime’s vessel MT Barrett and the Marine Express, owned by Japanese company Ocean Transit Carrier SA, were attacked within three weeks of each other while at anchor in the Gulf of Guinea. Each had 22 crew members on board.

Union Maritime lost contact with MT Barrett on 10 January and alerted regional maritime authorities. The vessel uses FleetBroadband satellite equipment so Inmarsat was approached for help in pinpointing the vessel’s last known position and exactly when communications were switched off – a typical tactic of pirates trying to avoid detection.

Equipment trace

Crucially, Inmarsat’s Network Operations Centre (NOC) was able to put a trace on the equipment and alert Benin Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre and other authorised parties as soon as it was switched back on.

The vessel and unharmed crew were released by their captors after six days.

The Marine Express was hijacked on 1 February and again Inmarsat was instrumental in tracking its position as Benin and Nigerian authorities sought to find it. The tanker was released on 6 February with no reported injuries among the Indian crew.

Position information

John Dodd, Director of Safety Services for Inmarsat Maritime, said: “We have a clear procedure in these instances. If our Global Customer Operations (GCO) team receives a call about a possible pirate attack they find the equipment information and check with the NOC if the vessel is online.

“If it is, the NOC will track it and provide position information. If it isn’t, they put a trace on the equipment so as soon as it is switched on they can alert the maritime safety team and GCO.

“These incidents are given the highest priority to ensure information is passed on quickly and accurately – after all, safety is at the heart of all we do.”

Despite an overall drop in attacks recorded by the International Maritime Bureau Piracy Reporting Centre, the Gulf of Guinea has become an increasing target for pirates who steal cargo and demand ransoms.