A Danish tanker flying the Liberian flag was attacked by pirates off Congo-Brazzaville in the Gulf of Guinea and contact was lost for three days with the crew of 16 sailors, its owner announced on Tuesday.
During this attack, which took place on Saturday evening 138 nautical miles west of the port of Pointe-Noire, in international waters, pirates were able to board the Monjasa Reformer and "the entire crew put themselves in security in the citadel" (armored refuge, editor's note) of the ship, indicated the shipowner Monjasa.
No communication with the sailors of this maritime supply vessel, 134 m long and with a capacity of 13,700 tonnes, has taken place since the company said in a press release.
According to Congolese authorities, three men attacked the boat, which was in the area to supply ships with fuel. "It was three men who took him hostage and since then the crew can no longer be reached," said a Pointe-Noire port official contacted by AFP.
The shipowner confirmed that he had not heard from him since Saturday evening, without being able to say whether or not the crew had been taken, hostage. "Communications are currently cut off and we are working with local authorities to establish communication and understand the situation on board," the statement said.
At the time of the incident, reported at 2239 GMT, the ship was immobilized with 16 crew members on board, according to Monjasa.
Contacted by AFP, the shipowner, which employs 568 people around the world, said it had no additional information to communicate, in particular on the nationalities of the sailors. According to the Danish press, they are not nationals of the Nordic country.
A "missing ship notice has been issued for passing boats to report to us if they encounter it," Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau's (IMB) piracy reporting centre, told AFP. in Malaysia. “We encourage coastal authorities with resources to help us. We need regional cooperation,” he added.
A crucial maritime route bordering hydrocarbon-rich countries, the Gulf of Guinea, which stretches 5,700 km between Senegal and Angola, was for several years the new black spot of global piracy. But the attacks have dropped recently thanks to the joint efforts of coastal countries and European states.
In June, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution strongly condemning acts of piracy, armed robbery and hostage-taking in the region. This hijacking took place further south, in an area not usually attacked by pirates.
"It's worrying because it's rare in this area compared to the Gulf of Guinea, for example, where many ship hijackings take place every year," said Rida Lyammouri , a researcher at the Policy Center for the New South, a think tank based in Morocco.
“Hopefully we are not seeing a new trend and this is just an isolated incident. It could also be explained by the tightening of security measures in the Gulf of Guinea and the pirates are looking for new areas of operation," he added.
Denmark, a major merchant navy power via its giant Maersk, notably sent a frigate in the fall of 2021. The mission was marked by a shootout with suspected pirates that claimed the lives of five of them.
In 2022, only about 20 skirmishes were recorded in the Gulf of Guinea, according to the Maritime Information Cooperation & Awareness Center. There had been 52 in 2021 and 115 in 2020, according to the maritime security expertise body based in Brest in France, which saw it as an "encouraging" example.
Since the beginning of the year, two attacks have been reported in the area, the last on March 2, according to the BMI. The Monjasa Reformer affair shows that "piracy problems off the west coast of Africa are far from being resolved", the Danish Shipowners Association said on Tuesday.
With the war in Ukraine, "we fully understand (...) that Denmark's naval military capability is needed elsewhere", she added. But, according to her, the countries with ships in the region, European "in particular, should coordinate their presence more, in order to cover this vast area as well as possible".
Most of the attacks in recent years have been carried out by Nigerian thugs attacking ships in fast boats. Some have captured larger fishing vessels which they use as bases for their speedboats to raid further out to sea.