Robert HARNEIS -TDO- The container ship Maersk Cadiz was boarded by pirates off West Africa on the afternoon of Saturday 19 December, Maersk Line has confirmed.

The Maersk Cadiz was under way on a short transit from Ghana to Cameroon. She was attacked and boarded by a gang of "criminals," Maersk said in a statement Sunday. The Nigerian Navy dispatched patrol vessels to assist, and the pirates departed the ship without kidnapping any crewmembers. All 21 seafarers aboard the ship are safe, Maersk said.

“We are very concerned about the increased security risk from armed attacks on merchant vessels in the area,” said Palle Laursen, Maersk's chief technical officer. “The risk has reached a level where local governments and the international community must take action to deal effectively with an unacceptable situation.”

The attack is the latest in a "surge of incidents" over the course of the past five weeks. The danger level for the high risk area in the Gulf of Guinea has been listed "critical" since mid-November, and pirate gangs have regularly boarded or attempted to board merchant vessels in the region over recent weeks.

"Vessels are advised to operate within this area at a heightened posture maintaining the highest levels of vigilance whilst implementing full hardening / mitigation," Dryad Global warned. "In addition the IMB advises that vessels remain at least 200-250 nautical miles offshore where possible."

After years of regional efforts to contain pirate groups based in the Niger River Delta, Western naval forces have begun to deploy their own warships to police the Gulf of Guinea and protect shipping interests. The Italian frigate Martinengo and the Spanish Navy patrol vessel Serviola both conducted multiple anti-piracy interdictions in the region this year, often arriving as the first responders and saving at least two vessels from pirate attacks.

International shipping industry organizations, with military support, have launched a new website dedicated to providing comprehensive maritime security guidance to companies and mariners. The new website provides security-related guidance produced by the industry as well as links to other useful maritime and military security resources.

The new website is a freely available facility where companies and mariners can access essential guidance and information to help them comprehensively prepare for voyages through areas of security risk.

The aim is to assist access for companies and seafarers to maritime security related information and guidance. Central to the website are new best practice guides to help companies and mariners risk assess voyages and mitigate against external threats to their safety.

A layered approach to security both at sea and when anchored is recommended: --

First layer: preventing unauthorized access to the vessel using razor wire and other obstructions.

Second layer: preventing or delaying access to the accommodation block, stores and machinery spaces by removing outside ladders and strengthening doors and gratings.

Third layer: preventing or delaying access to the ‘citadel’, the safe location for crew to retreat to if all other defenses are breached.

Concerning the situation off West Africa, the Maritime Global security website warns ships’ captains ‘Experience has shown rescue forces are unlikely to arrive before the perpetrators have left the vessel, or may not arrive at all.’

The site identifies four areas subject to piracy at the present time – West Africa, The Mediterranean, the Horn of Africa and East Asia near the Straits of Malacca.

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