Information security at Nigerian ports
In the majority of hijacks for cargo theft, pirates have demonstrated a degree of prior knowledge regarding the target vessel and its cargo. Pirates have hijacked tankers as far as 89 nm offshore (CAPE BIRD, 08 October 2011), suggesting that they have an awareness of where and when they can find specific tankers in relatively remote locations. Meanwhile, the accounts of hijacked crews have indicated that pirates had prior knowledge of ships’ cargoes, while interrogated pirates are reported to have received detailed instructions from their employers regarding which ships to target and their respective cargoes.
Accordingly, it is advisable to limit information dissemination regarding the operations of tankers in the Gulf of Guinea, and to implement effective information security procedures. Although this remains highly advisable, it is important to note that information security regarding vessel operations may be threatened by local authorities and partners. These local parties appear to provide information regarding ship operations freely and publicly.
On 16 July 2011, Nigerian news media published articles1 stating that “10 tankers laden with 219,456 metric tons of premium motor spirit popularly known as petrol…are expected at the Lagos ports between July 2 and 24”. They go on to state that “seven tankers loaded with 183,000mts of PMS have been awaiting berth at the Atlas Cove Jetty , Bulk Oil Plant, Single Buoy Mooring and the Petroleum Wharf Apapa jetties since June 18 until yesterday. The statistics also showed that among vessels expected at the Lagos Ports District this July include seven bearing 47,500mts of AGO, two with 11,000mts of kerosene, two with 15,695mts of base oil.” This type of information is released as a monthly press statement by the Nigerian Port Authority (NPA). Moreover, a visit to the NPA website2 will provide an inquisitor with a substantial amount of information regarding the cargo of vessels arrived and due to arrive at Nigerian ports together with their nominated agents.
Meanwhile, port agents can also be a local source of information regarding ship operations. Nigerian port agents frequently email details of crude oil and gas cargoes due to be loaded upon tankers at Nigerian terminals in coming weeks.
However, perhaps the most surprising publication of vessel operations is on the Nigerian Navy’s No Crude Oil Theft website3, designed to counter the culture of oil theft in Nigeria. The anti-oil-theft website’s homepage includes a newsfeed carrying news articles such as “Vessels Nominated By Pipelines And Products Marketing Company Ltd To Load/Discharge Petroleum Products – July 2013”. Such articles list the tankers due in Nigerian ports over the coming month, the vessels’ agents or the cargo loading/receiving companies, the vessels’ loading/discharging dates and berths and the types and quantity of their respective cargoes.
Publishing this information provides criminal syndicates with a list of various cargo parcels to target. Aware of a specific vessel’s planned load/discharge date and destination, pirates can track that vessel’s movements via its Automatic Identification System (AIS), striking at the optimum moment. Meanwhile, with full knowledge of the vessel’s cargo, criminal syndicates can line up buyers for the stolen cargo ahead of the vessel’s hijack.
Such widespread dissemination of information regarding tanker operations by local parties should serve to reemphasise the need to ensure that information regarding vessel operations remains guarded. Although local parties (such as agents) will require information regarding tankers’ operations, it may be advisable to release this information as late as commercially viable. Additionally, it may be possible to request agents in turn withhold certain information (and thus publication) such as the type of cargo due to be loaded/discharged from a vessel until as late as possible.
© GRAY PAGE ® 2013
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