French Cargo Ship Gascony Taken by Pirates

The Gascony Taken by Pirates on Sunday

Photo: Flickr.com/Blatant World

On January 31, The Gascony, a French cargo ship, left the Port of Abidjan on the Ivory Coast, carrying three thousand tons of gasoline. Nineteen crewmembers of various ethnic backgrounds were aboard the ship (one South Korean, one Chinese, seven Togolese, four Beninese, two Senegalese and two Ivorians), as well as fifteen West Africans. On Sunday, February 3, the ship drastically veered off course and seemingly disappeared until information surfaced on the ship’s location on Monday, February 4. “The ship was captured 139 km away from Abidjan, in the Ivorian waters, by an armed gang,” stated Colonel Bertin Koffi Tano, the director of Naval Affairs in the Ivory Coast. Tano was the first one to note the ship’s diversion on Monday.

The ship was retrieved early Wednesday morning February 6, and the ship’s company, Sea Tankers, affirmed that the ship was back under her captain’s control after a pirate siege. Two of the sailors suffered minor injuries and have been attended to by a medical team, but Sea Tankers was quick to assure the public of the health and safety of the sailors. A company spokesman announced that the pirates had taken some cargo, but the extent of losses remains unclear for the moment. Port authorities in Togo reported that Gascony’s crew was ordered to change course and head towards the Port of Lome after the attack.

Sea Tankers is a subsidiary of a Belgian group, Sea Invest, based in Gand, and Sea Invest took over the French company Fouquet-Sacop in 2007. Sea Tankers is based in Merignac near Bordeaux, in the South of France. Upon hearing of the emergency, the company first implemented a crisis unit and then proceeded to inform authorities.

In January, pirates attacked a Nigerian petroleum tanker anchored at the Port of Abidjan. In October 2012, a Greek tanker suffered similar atrocities in the exact same place. It appears the Ivory Coast has become a sanctuary for pirates who have migrated from the Gulf of Guinea, and Piracy is now very common in Nigeria, as it is the primary source of petroleum in Africa. Pirates have also won waters in Benin, where the prevalence of tanker attacks exploded in 2011. To add to the list of attacks, Nigerian authorities recently announced the return of a Filipino tanker where one person died, two Nigerian soliders were shot, and twenty were held hostage.

Noel Choong, the head of the piracy department of the IMB (International Maritime Bureau, based in Kuala Lumpur) has taken note of the frightening increase in piracy on the West African coast. “It appears that the pirates have moved towards the Ivory Coast because Nigeria and Benin have increased patrols near the Gulf of Guinea,” he stated. Bertin Koffi Tano highlighted the essential reason for Ivory Coast piracy stating that the Coast does not have ships to monitor its waters. He believes this to be the third act of piracy committed there within the past five months. In a report, the IMB announced that, in 2012 between January and September, there were thirty four piracy acts in the Gulf of Guinea alone, as well as twenty one in Nigeria and eleven around Togo.

The armed gangs who pirate these huge tankers “are perfectly informed on the potential of each country and know that, along the Gulf of Guinea, there is not much surveillance,” said the Colonel Mamadou Mariko, technical director of MOWCA (Maritime Organization of West and Central Africa) based in Abidjan. He declared that there is an overwhelming urgency for the Ivory Coast and Abidjan to take the problem “head on.”

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