The news coming from Mexico before July was one of praise because there had been a supposed dry spell of piracy incidents. Government organizations such as the Secretaria de Marine (SEMAR) quickly trumpeted this notion, especially after the United States issued a blistering warning to Mariners operating in the Gulf of Mexico due to the surge in piracy.
Here we are one day out from closing the month of July. During the last 30 days, several piracy incidents occurred and received limited coverage minus local news outlets and private security sources. The timeline of piracy-related events occurred as follows:
July 8, 2020: The OSV Isla Monserrat was boarded and robbed by pirates, ending the conjectured dry spell in piracy. The incident occurred approximately 10nm from the Port of Dos Bocas near the West Defender Platform. Reports indicate several armed men boarded the vessel. According to the Isla Monserrat's crew, pirates assaulted several members of the vessel and stole numerous personal belongings. The vessel's silent alarm was triggered during the event, but no aid was available to be rendered.
July 23, 2020: The BA Natalie was attacked by pirates approximately 12-14nm of Coatzacoalcos. The pirates boarded the vessel under cover of darkness and robbed members of the crew, taking personal belongings and money.
July 26, 2020: Pirates fired shots at crew members aboard the Cahua-Alfa and Cosl Hunter platforms, located 21nm from the Port of Coatzacoalcos. Depending on the source, reports suggest that pirates successfully boarded the platforms stealing personal belongings, tools, and other equipment.
July 29, 2020: During the early morning hours, a group of pirates successfully attacked a PEMEX land-based facility. The pirates utilized boats to make a beach landing, then slipped past security fencing to gain access to the facility. The pirates then subdued and bound several victims, including members of the security team. Reports state a victim managed to escape and alert additional security forces of the situation. This action caused the pirates to abandoned their operation but not before stealing communication equipment and personal belongings.
To date, no one was reported to be seriously injured, unlike previous encounters in months past.
The question presently on the minds of many maritime operators in Mexico is what will be done? SEMAR announced back in May that they would reinforce security efforts to combat piracy, which has seemingly failed. One thing is for sure, and that is many have lost faith in SEMAR and the Mexican government to combat piracy. Who can blame this sentiment when on top of piracy and fuel theft, SEMAR personnel were caught engaging in illegal activities such as was witnessed at Dos Bocas in late June. Combine that with dealing with COVID and multiple reports of the government trying to suppress the release of information, will August be any different?
Less than ten days have passed since we highlighted the topic for the southern Gulf of Mexico, and already we are conducting a closer investigation into the subject. However, before doing so, let’s review a quick disclaimer. This article is not going to be a hate-fest on the vessels, their management, or ownership. This paper intends to offer insight into the tactics used to demonstrate a pattern. That information will give you a better understanding of how to prevent or overcome these situations.
3/3/2020 - NN REGULUS, Mexico Flagged, IMO # 9549176, OSV
4/4/2020 - Not Named, Panama Flagged, IMO # N/A, Pipelay/Crane
4/9/2020 - MV REMAS, Italy Flagged, IMO # 9586459, OSV
4/12/2020 - MAERSK TRANSPORTER, Denmark Flagged, IMO # 9388649, OSV
4/15/2020 - TELFORD 28, Gibraltar Flagged, IMO # 8769638, Non-Propelled Barge
The NN REGULUS came under attacked approximately 3-4 KM from the Isla del Carmen, Industrial and Fishing Port, under cover of darkness assailants used speed boats and ladders to board the vessel successfully. According to the Vessel Master, the Pirates boarded and discharged firearms to intimidate the crew then split into two groups. One looted the ship’s cargo while the other robbed the crew themselves. After completing their mission, he pirates disembarked the vessel into their speedboats and vanished into the night.
Details regarding the event have been kept off the record. Possibly due to the attempt failing and discretion for those involved in the incident. What is known is pirates were unsuccessful at on their first attempt but were able to board the ship upon repeat attempts. Key points of the assault are that pirates approached the vessel using fast boats and fired shots at the vessel, clearly in a similar fashion to the previous incident. Five days later, on April 9th, 2020, the MV REMAS was attacked by pirates approximately 70 nautical miles north of Puerto Dos Bocas. During this attack, reports indicate two fast-moving boats pulled alongside MV REMAS and immediately began firing. Upon boarding the MV REMAS,pirates rounded up the crew then looted the vessel. A 35-sec video clip is available on the link provided. *https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwUv1KWAM2M&feature=youtu.be.
April 12th, 2020, the MAERSK TRANSPORTER came under attack near the coast of Cuidad del Carmen. Like previous attacks, the MAERSKTRANSPORTER was approached by 1-2 speedboats with 6-8 pirates. Upon boarding, the pirates shot out one of the bridge windows to gain entry insidethe vessel. The pirates rounded up crew members, rob them, and looted thevessel before departing.
The most recent event was, on April 15th, 2020, when the TELFORD28 was attacked near Cuidad del Carmen, possibly en route to Dos Bocas. Purportedly, three armed pirates boarded the TELFORD 28. During the attack, a crew member received two gunshot wounds, which required medical evacuation for extensive medical treatment. The pirates stole equipment and other valuables before disembarking the vessel.
Now let's identify some commonalities between the attacks.
· All attacks involved 1-2 small, fast boats
· Each incident occurred within the from Cuidad del Carmen to Dos Bocas
· Upon boarding the pirates loot vessel equipment and rob the crew
· Each attack the pirates were armed and demonstrated they weren’t afraid of using weapons
· Majority of cases the vessels were non-Mexican flagged
What preventative measures can be taken to mitigate attacks on vessels in the Gulf of Mexico?
· Ensure the vessel’s radar is on and monitored
· Ensure a deck watch is initiated
· Preform vessel hardening
· Find and utilize a reputable security firm
OSV or Special Service Vessel operating in the Gulf of Mexico, especially as a non-Mexican flagged vessel, needs to make special considerations. The current trend shows an increase in both frequency and violence of action. The information suggests that the targets were intentional because the pirates passed numerous other vessels en route to the victim. While vessel tracker software that is readily accessible to the public is useful, it leads one to wonder if criminals use the same technology for nefarious reasons.
State of Affairs in Mexico
As we read headlines in both the U.S. and Mexico about businesses slowly starting to reopen, there are a lot of uncertainties impacting our friends, families, and southern neighbor.
Aside from the economic downturn and tragic loss of life created in the wake of COVID19,the virus has stealthy diverted attention away from areas that otherwise would be at the forefront of public attention. Literally, we have witnessed a smorgasbord of events that under normal circumstances would make the average person ask, "what is going on?"
Since the advent of COVID19, we have seen reports of the Cartels and its members handing out food to the public, giving them a certain Robin Hood connotation amongst some people…winning hearts and minds. Yet several states like Tabasco have reported a higher number (slightly or not) of violent crimes in 2020 compared to this time in 2019. Then areas such as the city of Tampico have reported significant drops in crime such as property crimes.
Then just a few days ago, the President of Mexico announced that the Mexican Armed Forces would continue law enforcement activities until 2024. While to an American,this may seem like Marshall Law being implemented, it has mixed reviews in Mexico. Some people see it as many Americans would, but for many others, myself included, see this as a positive thing. The armed forces are being leveraged to support the National Guard while they gear up for increased national operations. I love the men and women who serve in law enforcement, but for those who have operated in Mexico, there are mixed sediments when dealing with law enforcement. While no one is beyond reproach, there have been fewer cases of corruption involving the National Guard and branches of the Mexican Armed Forces.
I love the States of Tabasco and Veracruz, so please forgive me for using some incident examples from each locality. The State of Tabasco has implemented and enforced a statewide ban on the sale of alcohol. This has led to numerous incidents of violent robberies against truck drivers simply trying to make a living as well as business owners who were forced to shelve rather than sell their alcohol stock. A specific quote from Edmund Burke comes to mind "Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it" because we can see some definite similarities between the U.S. Prohibition and what is happening in Tabasco. Police are obligated to enforce the alcohol ban on small businesses where selling alcohol on neighborhood street corner is life support for their business and family.However, we have also witnessed acts of violence towards business owners, truck drivers, and warehouse staff where alcohol was present. There have been cases of alcohol being smuggled into Mexico from Guatemala and even people making home brews, which does not always work out, such as with the case of several people dying in the Yucatan from tainted homemade alcohol. Is the ban on the sale of alcohol worth?
The Mexican freight industry has taken a significant blow as well. Tabasco is set to see a 40% reduction in freight, 40%! Most of the decrease is directly due to the energy sector downturn. However, the reduction in freight impacts grocery supply chains and other supplies needed by people. Compounding the decrease in freight is the fact that there have been roving bands of criminals in the southern part of Veracruz, Tabasco, and even a few in Campeche that have been targeting tractor-trailers. These criminals have gone as far as creating roadblocks, stopping trucks in their tracks, assaulting drivers, and stealing merchandise. I commend the men and women in both the U.S. and Mexico to ensure we can buy anything given the times. On a positive note, law enforcement in Veracruz were successful in apprehending some of the criminals involved with robbing truckers.
I've talked a lot about the rampant piracy menacing mariners, platform personnel, and everyone involved in the maritime industry in the southern Gulf of Mexico. The Secretaría de la Marina(SEMAR) has recently advised maritime stakeholders that they are assessing the current situation. Over 50 companies with assets in the areas of Sonda de Campeche and the Tabasco Coast have voiced their concerns over security and why SEMAR has done so little to prevent maritime crimes. Current estimates show at least 170 vessels are supporting the nearly 300 platforms in the region, all of which are at risk of piracy. However, due to the economic impacts brought about by COVID 19, over 82% of those vessels are sitting at anchorage between Cd del Carmen and Dos Bocas. The Mexican Chamber of the Maritime Transport Industry has voiced its concern and formally requested that SEMAR make a significant increase to demonstrate its intervention against piracy.
Presently, SEMAR advised it will be increasing surveillance operations in the region. While on the topic of piracy I’d like to point out a trend we've seen with piracy in the Gulf of Mexico aside from the obscurity of reports and general attack activities. That trend is the fact there have been numerous vessels that have suffered repeat attacks. While Piracy in West Africa far outpaces activity in the Gulf, there have been several instances of vessels being attacked twice in the Gulf of Mexico. Teleford 28 was recently attacked again this week after it suffered an attack April 16. The MV Remas is another example. The Remas was attacked by pirates in November 2019 leaving two Italian crew injured and attacked again in April 2020. I'll let you surmise why they were repeat targets all the while surrounded by other vessels that would have served just as well as a victim, but also why this is a Gulf of Mexico problem vs. other regions of the world. I was able to speak to Lee Oughton, a Managing Partner and COO of Fortress Risk Management, regarding the maritime situation in the Gulf. Mr. Oughton and his company have been successful in mitigating several piracy incidents just in the last month through a combination of technology and layered security. While the regulatory process to legally conduct maritime security in the Gulf of Mexico can be an extremely difficult circumnavigate, Mr. Oughton is proof it can be done.
As Mexico battles COVID, it is highly plausible that dealing with piracy has been placed on the back burner. Add the fact there are tons of vessels resting at anchorage and the chaotic economic situation inland, we may witness increase piracy as well as other crimes over the coming weeks and possibly months.
Stratigos Dynamics, Inc.
Bloody weekend in Tabasco
The state of Tabasco suffered a bloody weekend (June 6 &7). Around 12 people were murdered in cold blood or their bodies discovered.
Four the victims were police officers who engaged huachicoleros (Fuel Thieves) in the RancheriaPejelagartero section of Huimanguillo, Tabasco. Reports indicate the officers were involved in a large fire fight with suspected fuel thieves in the area.The initial incident occurred on Saturday June 6th but officers weren't recovered until June 7th. It is believed that the suspects work for a criminal called “El Kalimba.” The names of the fallen officers were released on Sunday as Commander Adrian Sanchez Torrez, Officers Abenamar RuizGeronimo, Marco Antonip Sanchez Mendez, and Rubicel Cordoba Alpuche. Police are investigating the matter further but have not released further details.
On Saturday June 6th, a group of armed suspects made their way into a home located in the Jacinto Lopez neighborhood of Cardenas. Once inside the suspects opened fire on three young teenagers. Two of three were victims were killed while one was transported to a local hospital to be treated for gunshot wounds. Thus, far there no official report has indicated what a possible motive could be.
On Juan Sosa Mazariego St. of the Gaviotas Nte. neighborhood in Villahermosa was the scene of a triple homicide. During the evening of June 6th armed suspects forced their way into a residence. Inside the suspects shot six people, killing three. Authorities released the names of both the victims that were killed and those wounded. All of the victims are believed to be related, but yet again, no motive has been identified.
Additions to the bloodshed are two reports of two bodies being discovered. The body of a young man was discovered along a rural road in the El Carmen area of Cunduacan. Reports indicate that the victim was stabbed in the neck, chest and abdomen and dumped along the roadside. Thus, far the identity of the victim is unknown. The second incident involves the body of another unknown young man being discovered along a street in the Casa Blanca area of Villahermosa. Reports indicated that the victim’s body showed signs of being tortured before being shot and killed. Upon discovery of the body,authorities discovered a note left by the suspects that murdered the victim. No details were reported regarding the contents of the note.
In most instances, when someone reads or hears about piracy, they think of locales such as the infamous Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Guinea, or even the Malacca Strait. What may not come to mind but definitely should is the Southern portion of the Gulf of Mexico (GOM).
04.04.2020: 0206 UTC: Pos: 18:37.5N – 093:19.7W, HSP Platform, Offshore Dos Bocas, Mexico.
Crew onboard, a pipelaying vessel noticed a boat with eight armed persons approaching at high speed. The alarm sounded, accommodation locked down, and all crew mustered. As the boat approached from the stern, it started firing at the vessel. Using the thrusters, the Master was able to prevent the boat from coming alongside, resulting in the boat aborting and moving away. Port Control notified via VHF, and a patrol boat was dispatched to the location.
Anyone that operates in certain areas of Mexico knows all too well incidents such as fuel theft, stolen equipment, and crime have a talent for being swept to the wayside.
Back in September of 2019, it was reported that there was an increase of over 300% in piracy incidents between 2017 to 2018. A quick google glimpse of 2019 quickly reveals numerous incidents of rigs being robbed, vessels attacked, and many victims robbed or even shot.
There have been numerous calls for the Mexican government to increase naval support in hopes of mitigating piracy, but little has happened. There are private security solutions, but similar to the Gulf of Guinea, the industry is heavily regulated. Now enter COVID-19 to add another layer of uncertainty to operations. Areas like the Northern portion of the State of Tamaulipas, which is well known for acts of violence, have seen a reduction in incidents. However, states like Tabasco, which are low to medium risk areas, have seen a significant uptick in incidents both on land and sea. The weeks to come will surely demonstrate whether criminals take a break due to the COVID-19 epidemic or use the situation to their advantage.