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Friday, June 9, 2023

State Dept. Issues Piracy Warning for Gulf of Mexico

The State Department has issued a warning about the threat posed by pirates to vessels and oil installations in the southern Gulf of Mexico.

The June 17 travel advisory said armed criminal groups are targeting commercial vessels, oil platforms and offshore supply vessels in the Bay of Campeche. Violent crime in the Campeche region is widespread and in November an Italian flag carrier was attacked by pirates, wounding two crew members.

The US Maritime Administration issued an Alert on April 17 warning that a maritime threat had been reported in the Bay of Campeche area. The threat was a series of four piracy incidents that took place between April 4 and April 14. All four incidents involved attacks on offshore support vessels, some involving violence to crew members.

In another incident on April 15 north of Ciudad del Carmen, Mexico, a construction barge was attacked by six men with automatic weapons who tried unsuccessfully to get into the crew members’ accommodations. One crew member was injured and the pirates stole equipment from the barge before leaving.

The International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Center highlights Port Au Prince, Venezuela and, increasingly, the waters off Peru as hotspots where mariners are warned to be extra cautious.

“All incidents (actual and attempted) and suspicious sightings should be reported to local authorities, flag states and to the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre as per IMO Cir 1334,” says the center. “Ships are advised to maintain strict anti-piracy watches and measures especially in high risk waters.”

Marine insurer Gard noted in its own April advisory about risks in the Gulf of Mexico that “piracy and armed robbery incidents in the southern rim of the Gulf of Mexico is reportedly not uncommon.”

“Various media reports describe a steep increase in the number of attacks on maritime oil infrastructure in Mexico since 2016 – some even refer to an average of 16 attacks a month between January and September 2019. Although these numbers are unconfirmed, they do suggest that there could be a significant degree of under-reporting of incidents in the Gulf of Mexico,” the alert said.

“According to the incidents recorded by the IMB PRC, the perpetrators typically use small boats capable of reaching high speeds, are armed and tend to be violent. Their targets are mainly offshore support vessels and the organization has not recorded any attacks on larger commercial vessels in Mexico in the previous ten years. The modus operandi seems to be a maritime extension of organized crime as sophisticated equipment is often stolen and resold and crews are robbed.”

Gard stressed that, among measures such as closely following alerts and keeping crew members up to date on a ship’s security plan, keeping “a proper, visual lookout” is critical.

“According to the Global Counter Piracy Guidance, this is the most effective method of ship protection,” the insurer noted. “It can help identify a suspicious approach or attack early on, allows defences to be deployed and, can serve as an effective deterrent to would-be attackers.”

The State Department advisory also pointed out that the U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in many areas of Mexico, as travel by U.S. government employees to certain areas is prohibited or significantly restricted.

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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