Nigerian Piracy and Jones Act Protections

Mariners engaged in global commerce can add piracy to the list of hazards faced by ocean-going seamen. This is particularly true to mariners working on cargo ships that traverse the oceans adjacent to Western Africa, where pirate attacks nearly doubled in 2016. The increase in pirate activity is attributed to reduced law enforcement patrols and the rise of Nigerian militants who are upset that the local people are not benefitting from the operations of the multinational oil companies occupying their country. To date, there have been no successful prosecutions of Nigerian pirates in West Africa.

Nigerian Piracy – By The Numbers

Regardless of the reasons, mariners must take significant precautions to avoid pirates in Nigerian waters and train to deter pirates.  According to the NGO, Oceans Beyond Piracy, Nigerian piracy activities took an economic toll of over $793 million in 2016 with over $345 million spent on contracted maritime security services. Over 1920 mariners were subjected to pirate attacks off the coast of West Africa and 96 were taken hostage. Two-thirds of all West African pirate attacks occurred off the coast of Nigeria.

Hallmarks of a Nigerian Pirate Attack

Kidnapping crew for ransom is the main goal of Nigerian pirates. These types of attacks are on the rise, with at least 18 reported incidences of merchant seafarer kidnappings in 2016. These numbers do not include attacks in the Nigerian delta. Most attacks fall within the exclusive economic zone, and territorial waters of Nigeria and can be broken down as follows:

  • Failed boarding’s – 46
  • Kidnapping – 18
  • Robbery – 13
  • Suspicious Activity – 10
  • Armed Robbery – 7
  • Hijacking and Theft of Cargo – 1

Most attacks are on merchant vessels, where fuel can be obtained, and high-level crew kidnapped and held in camps along the Niger Delta until ransom has been paid.

Avoiding Nigerian Pirates

As far as practicable, keeping out of pirate waters is the best avoidance strategy. If that is not possible, adhering to the Best Management Practices for Protection against Somalia Based Piracy (BMPs) can go a long way in keeping pirates off of your vessel. The BMPs recommend that vessels entering waters in which pirates are concentrated communicate their plans to local law enforcement, use maritime security forces and other deterrents, and fortify the vessel against attack.

Jones Act Liability in Pirate Attacks

The Jones Act is a part of U.S. maritime law that places a duty on commercial vessel owners and operators to ensure that the vessel they provide is seaworthy and as safe as possible for the crew that works on it. If your vessel is attacked by pirates and you are injured, you have the right to sue your employer under the Act for negligence. The Jones Act negligence standard is lower than common law negligence in other situations and can be found if:

  • your vessel’s owner needlessly places the vessel in harm’s way by taking routes that run through waters heavily concentrated with pirates
  • your vessel’s owner fails to equip the vessel with standard pirate attack deterrent equipment
  • your captain fails to adequately train the crew on anti-pirate equipment and protocols
  • your captain fails to carry out designated protocols in the event of a pirate attack
  • your crew members fail to do their duty in the event of a pirate attack

Maritime laws protect mariners injured during pirate attacks and provides you with compensation for your injuries and losses.

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