Eoin O’Cinneide | Tradewinds
Indian authorities are likely to be on high alert after a Sovcomflot-owned tanker had a run in with suspected pirates a mere 40 miles from the coast on Wednesday.
Placing an armed security team onboard the 105,800-dwt NS Century appears to have been a wise move by the Russian owner as the ship managed to escape attack in the Arabian Sea off Porbandar.
Crew of the Liberia-flagged aframax noticed three skiffs some six miles ahead as they were underway off India on Wednesday afternoon, a report from the International Maritime Bureau read without identifying the vessel. Well-informed sources later named the 2006-built tanker as the one involved.
“A suspected mother vessel without AIS signal was also noticed via radar around 17nm ahead. The skiffs increased speed and headed towards the tanker. One of the skiffs increased its speed to around 20knots. There were 6-8 persons in each skiff,” the report continued.
Master commenced evasive manoeuvres, alerted all crewmembers. The skiffs closed to around three cables and the armed security team onboard fired warning shots. The skiffs stopped and were seen moving towards the mother vessel.”
It is understood that no shots were fired at the tanker and the incident was classed as a ‘suspicious approach’ by some relevant authorities.
The incident does, however, bear all the hallmarks of Somali piracy activity and it is highly likely to have developed into an armed hijacking attempt had there not been an embarked security team in place.
The NS Century is in the fleet of SCF Novoship which is ultimately owned by Russian state-backed tanker giant Sovcomflot. In late December Novoship’s 112,900-dwt tanker NS Africa (built 2009) was involved in a low level piracy incident in the Mozambique Channel south of Comoros. No shots were fired at the aframax in the approach.
The most famous piracy incident involving the Russian owner in the region concerned its 106,500-dwt tanker Moscow University (built 1999). The Liberia-flagged aframax was boarded by pirates off the Horn of Africa in May last year sending its crew scurrying for the safety of a citadel. Within a day a Russian warship arrived on the scene and rescued the ship and crew, sending the pirates packing towards Somalia in one of their vessels, although nothing was ever heard of them again and they are presumed lost at sea.
In November Novoship suffered a pirate attack on the other side of the continent. Its 47,200-dwt NS Spirit (built 2006) came under fire off Nigeria and was boarded by bandits but crew managed to hide themselves onboard. One crew member was, however, injured by gunfire in the assault.
Wednesday’s incident involving the NS Century is likely to prove a concern not only to Indian authorities but the entire shipping industry as it occurred in an area through which ships have recently been advised to sail specifically in an effort to avoid pirates operating in the Arabian Sea.