Eight crew unaccounted for after pirates board boxship off Benin

Second such incident in 2020 and fifth in past 12 months off Cotonou anchorage, sources said.

Eight seafarers are reported to have been taken hostage aboard a German-owned containership off West Africa.

The incident involving the 4,957-teu Tommi Ritscher (built 2014) occurred on Sunday morning at the Cotonou Anchorage, Benin.

A security consultancy reported the vessel was approached by a speedboat and subsequently boarded by an unknown number of persons.

“A naval patrol vessel is understood to have spotted the speedboat alongside the vessel and approached,” it said.

“On approaching, the speedboat is understood to have fled leaving the perpetrators on board the Tommi Ritscher.”

Security consultancy said its intelligence indicates that 11 crew members are locked in the ship’s citadel with eight further crew members reportedly remaining outside.

“The remaining eight crew are believed to be being held on board the vessel,” it said.

Contact lost

A statement from owner Woollerton Shipping and manager Transeste of Germany confirmed pirates boarded the vessel while moored at Cotonou anchorage at 0300 BST on 19 April.

The Benin navy and local port authorities were immediately informed of the attack after contact was lost with the ship, they added.

“The Benin navy has now deployed three vessels as escorts and are investigating the matter further,” the statement added.

“Contact with the some of the crew has been re-established. Eleven crew members were able to safely lock in the citadel; however, unfortunately we are unable to contact eight other crew members, who remain unaccounted for.”

The companies added: “Our priority is the ongoing safety and welfare of the crew. Our thoughts are with the families of the missing seafarers during this difficult time and we are constantly updating them on the situation.

“We are working closely with the relevant stakeholders and specialists to ensure the safe return of our much-valued crew members as soon as possible. Because of the delicate nature of the situation, no operational details will be provided going forward that may jeopardise efforts to affect the safe release of those being held.”

Maersk said: “Maersk, as charterer of the vessel, can confirm that the vessel has been attacked by pirates while at anchorage off Cotonou.

“We understand that the Benin navy has been contacted and is responding. We are monitoring the situation closely and have offered our full support to owners, managers and operators in this difficult situation.”

Nigeria to lend a helping hand

Security consultancy said reporting on the morning of 20 April indicated that assistance had been sought from Nigeria.

The country is understood to have dispatched a Nigerian patrol boat with a detachment of naval special boat service personnel.

They were due to arrive at 8.30pm local time (8.30pm GMT).

Manager Transeste Schiffahrt of Germany has been contacted for further information.

According to Clarksons, the Tommi Ritscher was chartered to Maersk Line in early April 2019 for between 10 to 17 months at $15,250 per day.

This is thought to be the second incident within the Cotonou anchorage within 2020 and the fifth incident in the past 12 months.

“Whilst the full details of the incident remain unknown, incidents within the anchorage area have predominantly been limited to suspicious approaches and boarding’s for the purposes of petty theft,” security consultancy said.

“The waters off Cotonou and neighbouring Lome have witnessed a number of more serious incidents involving the kidnap of crew at a distance of between 40 and 150 nautical miles.

Source: TradeWinds