Thursday, 29 March 2012

IBF declares Benin and Nigerian waters 'high risk' for piracy

Crew to get same benefits as in 'Somali' HRA

In response to the increasingly violent attacks on crews in the territorial waters of Nigeria and Benin in West Africa, the IBF (International Bargaining Forum) has declared those areas 'High Risk Areas' (HRA) for piracy. The decision will come into effect on April 1 and will give seafarers the same benefits in these waters as they get in the HRA off Somalia, including a doubling of basic wages and death or disability compensation, the need for enhanced security measures, advance notice of intent to enter the area and the right to refuse to enter it.

The IBF is a forum for discussion between the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and its member unions, and the maritime employers in the Joint Negotiating Group (JNG). Although the HRA decision pertains to ships that operate under an IBF agreement, the ITF is considering adopting these to non-IBF agreements as well, reports say.

The decision has come, the IBF says, as it is "increasingly concerned about the deteriorating situation in respect of security of crews employed on IBF vessels in the Gulf of Guinea. Specifically, available reports of attacks leading to forceful seizure of cargo and kidnapping of crewmembers have been considered at length. The increase in the number of attacks and the violent tactics of hostage taking applied by armed gangs have been found disturbing, particularly in the waters and ports of Nigeria and Benin. The necessity of an adequate response to the situation has become clear in an effort to bring greater security and guarantees to seafarers serving on IBF ships in the area".

Besides establishing coordinates for the West African HRA, the IBF has included "the territorial waters of Benin and Nigeria, including ports, terminals and roads anchorages, the delta of the Niger river, other inland waterways and port facilities, except only when the vessel is attached securely to a berth or SBM facility in a guarded port area". When ships are within the HRA, their crews will be entitled- in addition to adequate protection, advice and compensations already mentioned- to the advantages of Best Management Practices, sufficient notice of owners' intent to enter the HRA, repatriation at owner's cost at seafarer's request and support to seafarer families if a vessel is attacked.

It must be pointed out that, although the declaration of the new HRA was inevitable, there is a different dimension to piracy in the Gulf of Guinea when compared with that off Somalia: the former does not involve hijacking of ships for long periods because there are no safe havens for pirates off West Africa. Instead, pirates attack, loot valuables and cargo and take crews hostage for ransom. Some seafarers have been killed in the violence during the attacks; the GOG pirates seem much more trigger-happy.

Another worrying aspect of the GOG HRA for owners is this: Many vessels will stay for a much longer time within the GOG HRA than that off Somalia, where ships remain in the HRA for days, not weeks or even months as in the GOG. This is bound to escalate costs for all parties involved.

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