No fewer than 14 crew members were kidnapped from a Chinese heavy-lift ship off the coast of Sao Tome.
According to security consultancy Dryad Global, the heavy lift ship Zhen Hua 7 was boarded by pirates at a position about 80 nm to the northeast of Sao Tome, in the Gulf of Guinea. The ship was drifting at the time of the boarding. 14 out of her 27 crewmembers were kidnapped, and all of the victims are Chinese nationals, according to Dryad.
Zhen Hua 7 is a 50,000 dwt semisubmersible heavy lift ship flagged in Liberia. She is owned by a prominent Chinese heavy lift operator based in Shanghai. As of Sunday, the vessel was still adrift in the same region, broadcasting her destination as Luba, Equitorial Guinea.
The boarding is the eighth attack or attempted attack in the Gulf of Guinea region within nine days, according to Dryad, and it highlights the ongoing critical risk to shipping off West Africa. It also marks the area’s 21st kidnapping of the year and brings the total number of abducted seafarers to 110.
The pace of pirate activity in the Gulf of Guinea has accelerated in recent weeks. Last weekend, an Italian Navy frigate rescued the product tanker Torm Alexander from a boarding in progress. The Alexandra was approached and boarded by pirates about 160 nm off the coast of Benin. Her crew sent a distress signal and retreated to the vessel’s citadel. The frigate Martinengo received the signal and responded by dispatching her helicopter to the scene. When the helicopter aircrew arrived and fired warning shots, the pirates fled. All 21 members of the Alexandra‘s crew were safe and unharmed.
The following day, the Sea Shepherd patrol vessel Bob Barker was approached about 100 nautical miles off Cotonou, Benin. According to Dryad, seven or eight armed pirates approached to within one nautical mile. The Barker is in the region assisting the Beninese Navy with a fishery patrol mission, and she was carrying an embarked military boarding team. According to Sea Shepherd, the civilian crew retreated to the vessel’s citadel while the Beninese Navy personnel deterred the threat. “The emergency preparedness of Bob Barker crew and the professionalism of the Benin Navy kept the ship and all of its crew safe,” Sea Shepherd said in a statement.