Paramilitary: Armored Against Pirates

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November 14, 2019: Nigeria has a piracy problem off its coast in the Gulf of Guinea. The pirates are not heavily armed, usually, just AK-47s or, at most, a small-caliber machine-gun as well. The pirates prey on moored coastal tankers and cargo ships as well as offshore oil platforms, pumping facilities and the small boats that move people and equipment from port to the offshore platforms. The pirates prefer to operate at night and use speedboats with room for half a dozen gunmen and any portable loot or kidnapped oil workers (especially foreigners, who bring a larger ransom) carried off a ship or oil rig.

While all offshore support vessels can carry some soldiers for security, the larger companies supplying offshore rigs have been purchasing special supply and personnel transport vessels with bulletproof wheelhouses for the crew and similar protection for personnel in below deck areas. The two types being purchased are the 33 meter FCS 3307 patrol vessel which can also carry equipment and supplies to offshore facilities, and a 40 meter Flex Fighter security boat that has above deck seating for 42 passengers as well as kitchen and sleeping facilities for the small crew and larger security force that can be carried. Both ships also have deck space for cargo and the FCS vessel has below-deck cargo space as well. Both ships can accommodate up to a dozen soldiers and their weapons. The Flex Fighter comes with mounts for machine-guns. Both vessels depend on speed (over 50 kilometers an hour) to avoid pirate vessels. Both ships have powerful search radars and thermal imaging equipment to see through fog or mist. While at sea these ships remain in touch with the naval patrol boats and army bases ashore.

Off the Nigerian coast, there are over two dozen offshore oil platforms and more are being built. Currently about half of Nigerian oil production comes from the offshore facilities and the proportion of production taking place offshore is increasing. While this reduces the frequency of attacks by criminal gangs, especially tapping oil pipelines and stealing the oil, there are still hundreds of personnel working on those offshore rigs at any time, most of them Nigerians who have families ashore. To transport the rig workers to and from shore, along with supplies for the rigs and the crews, the government provides troops who are stationed on many of the platforms as well as navy gunboats to patrol the area and respond to distress calls from commercial ships and the offshore rigs.

Despite all these precautions, there are still successful pirate attacks or, more accurately, pirate raids on support ships, rigs and commercial ships passing through the area or going to or from Port Harcourt (the major port city) and smaller coastal towns. The government tried to discourage kidnappings, which still occur, by responding with large scale searches by land and naval forces to find the bases ashore the pirates are operating from. Most of the pirate attacks are offshore robbery of crews and grabbing portable valuables, locking or tying up the crew before heading back to shore to sell their loot. Some pirates cannot resist kidnapping a few ship officers off larger vessels and hope they get away with obtaining a large ransom. Most pirates now tend to resist attacking the armed and armored support boats moving between ports and platforms.

 


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