Four crew members from the container feeder Contship Oak have been kidnapped off the coast of Cameroon, vessel operator Contship has confirmed. The attack occurred shortly after the U.S. and other allied forces conducted large-scale anti-piracy drills in the region.
In an attack on March 30, pirates boarded the Oak at the outer anchorage at the port of Douala and made off with the four crewmembers. As of Tuesday, the Oak was moored safely at the port.
The attack occurred eight days after Obangame Express 2019, a multinational maritime security exercise led by U.S. Naval Forces Africa. The manoeuvres involved 2500 servicemembers, 95 vessels and 12 aircraft, with participation from NATO allies and 20 West African nations. The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Thetis deployed to the Gulf of Guinea to assist with training exchanges.
Regional security challenges
Cameroon shares many of the same security concerns as other Gulf of Guinea nations, though to a lesser extent than Nigeria. The Niger River Delta, 130 nm to the west of Douala, is the primary locus of pirate activity in the region.
Nigeria and Cameroon have an anti-piracy cooperation agreement in place, but despite improved coordination, attacks in the region have risen relentlessly over the past two years. The Gulf of Guinea is by far the most active region in the world for maritime piracy, especially kidnapping.
Pirate attacks off Nigeria have become increasingly violent, with pirates employing multiple attack boats and engaging in shootouts with naval escorts. On March 9, Nigerian pirates kidnapped five crewmembers from an OSV in the Gulf of Guinea despite the efforts of a security escort vessel. After an active firefight between the escort and two attack boats, pirates boarded the target vessel, ransacked its cabins and made off with the victims. One Nigerian Navy armed guard was reportedly killed in the exchange of fire between the naval security boat and the pirates.